The Curious Case of Lamoni, Iowa

Strange things are afoot at the Spiral J.

When I was a child, every summer we would make the trip to the Iowa/Missouri border where my mother’s mother’s mother lived, in order to attend the Snethen Family Reunion. The Snethens were hog farmers for generations, and still own a farm in Lamoni today. Whenever we’d smell a trailer full of hogs on the interstate, or drive past a hog farm, Mom would say, “Smells like money!” Smelled like shit to me, but everyone makes money somehow, and I do like pork.

As is family tradition, the first money I ever made was from selling a pig at 4H auction.

I remember when we got the hogs. We penned them up in a small field just beside the barn. They could go into the steel-roof shed for shade, they would waller in a mud pit they made, or just run around the pen. The vet told us those hogs would be worthless, we gave them too much space to roam, they’d be too lean for market, not enough fat on them. He said we didn’t know what we were doing.

We raised six hogs in that overlarge pen, and when it came time for the 4H auction the next year, all four we showed were blue ribbon. Mom could not have been prouder of us.

A local farmer paid me $436 for mine, then donated it back to me so that it could be sold at the “real” auction at the State Fair a month later. This was a charity scheme that the 4H ran for the poorer families. You could either sell the hog twice, once at an inflated price for charity then again later a market price, or you could sell it once, get the money, take the hog back, and use the proceeds from the first ‘sale’ to have it slaughtered and butchered to feed your family. We kept one of the hogs to eat and sent the other three to market. All three went for a premium at the State Fair because of how healthy they were. Turns out they have less fat, but a lot more muscle when they can run around, and happier animals are healthier animals anyway. I hope we did Grampa Snethen proud with that one.

The hog farm, and destination for these summer reunions, was Lamoni, Iowa, home of Graceland College. It was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stop just one mile inside the Iowa border. My favorite parts of the trip were the swimming hours at the Graceland pool and the “whee hill” on the way to great-grandma’s house, which was our term for hills that, at the right speed, would make your stomach drop momentarily when you went over them. There’s a great one on 7 Highway just east of Harrisonville, where the sign warns big rigs of a steep grade, on the way to Garden City, where all the Mennonites live.

We’d go up to Iowa, usually the second weekend of August, and stay at the Chief Lamoni Motor Lodge at the edge of town. I thought I saw a spaceship there once when I was a kid, but it was probably just a big rig coming in late at night while I was all bleary and sleep-confused, startled awake by the sudden bright lights in the parking lot.

It’s unlikely they have many visitors from outer space at a tiny motor lodge in a tiny hog-farming community right on the border of Iowa and Missouri, but hang on, because maybe, and who are you to say? And as it turns out, apparently that part of Iowa is more important than you may have suspected.

We’d come in Friday night, take lunch on Saturday morning with my grandma’s family, then head over for the afternoon and dinner with the Snethens. On Sunday we’d attend church, have lunch (with lots and lots of pork), swim, play games, and then head back home in the late afternoon.

Graceland had its own chapel, which is where we’d hear the sermons on Sunday morning. I was always very confused by this, because I was raised Methodist and attended Sunday School and Church every Sunday morning for my entire life until I was old enough to decline, and big enough that nobody bothered to argue about it. Spanking isn’t a threat when it hurts your hand more than it hurts my butt. We got there eventually, but it took some work. They’d threaten to spank me and I’d be like “Well sure, if that’s what’ll get this over with, c’mon, let’s get on with it.” We learned to live with each other’s choices.

Either way, I’d often go to Methodist choir practice with Mom on Wednesday evenings to play games with the other kids in the spooky old empty church building while the choir sang in the sanctuary. Sometimes we’d venture down into the unfinished basement where rumor had it the Underground Railroad used to hide, but I never saw any tunnels or rails, so I wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about. I mostly went on Wednesdays for the pot luck supper – those ladies made some incredible dishes – and I only went on Sundays because Mom made me. The church library had some interesting books, at least.

I found the Methodist sermons interminably boring, and largely disconnected from the content of the Bible itself, which confused me. I knew all the stories, and could (at the time) answer essentially any question at Bible Study immediately and correctly. We also had most of the Hannah Barbera tapes for “The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible”, which we watched religiously, no pun intended. At the time, I could recite the books of the Bible in order. I had somewhat of a grasp of those things.

I didn’t end up pay much attention once I realized I knew the lore like the back of my hand, but the sermons often had nothing at all to do with the lore, which was intriguing but weird, so I would just read the Bible over and over during services, since that was supposed to be the important part. By the time I was 18, I had probably read it two or three times. I had a copy of Gideon’s that I left on the back of the toilet when I was in college, for when I ran out of magazines, so I probably made my way through it another time or two then. Suffice to say, I was pretty dang familiar with the stories.

But the sermons in Iowa were equal parts fascinating and confusing, because this was all new material to me, and I was baffled as to where they were getting this stuff. It wasn’t until I was much older that the parts started to come together.

The university gymnasium at Graceland was styled as two snowy mountains, circumscribed by a concrete ridge painted white. We’d scramble up the sloped buttresses around the perimeter, and walk around the edge of the white rubberized mountains. One time I noticed far afield an inscribed black wall, down by the track and field to the east of the gym, and wandered over to read it. What I found was a monument to the greatest athlete to ever graduate from Graceland, a multi-gold-winning Olympic athlete that was a shining testament to Graceland and Lamoni. I read the entire monument with fascination as it recounted this athlete’s life story. That monument, and his story, stuck with me, etched in black stone with silver and gold glints inside.

Years later, as I wound my way towards adulthood, I was working at Best Buy. I took the interview the morning after meeting Isabel (she’s the main character of the first few pages of another story I may post one day). I strolled in newly-made and hungover like you wouldn’t believe, and got the job. I was selling computers and computer accessories to the rubes, plying them with garbage HP printers and overpriced Sony CRT monitors, all of it with a PRP, or performance replacement plan, that we all knew would never be honored. I knew I was scamming people, just like Best Buy wanted, and unfortunately for citizens of Overland Park, I was good at it.

While working at Best Buy, I met a young woman named Lindy. Lindy was about 5’7”, thin for her height at around 130 lbs., as gorgeous and as shapely as 17-year-old women come, with long shiny brown hair and big brown eyes. I’m sure you recognize this description from my other stories, most of the women who’ve drawn my attention have shared a similar profile. Lindy was a treat, and for reasons I couldn’t understand, was completely taken with me. I’d tease her, we’d joke around, our supervisors would tell us to get back to work. I’d tell Emily, one of Lindy’s supervisors who I often accused of having chubby eyes, to get back to her own boyfriend at the registers and leave Lindy and I alone. I’d find any reason or no reason to visit Lindy’s section, or her register at the returns counter, or just find a way to hang around her vicinity. We’d go to Dick Clarks’ American Bandstand Grill after work with friends. Someone returned a Tek-Deck, a tiny plastic skateboard, and we’d practice tricks together, joking and laughing. Lindy was a treat. I adored her.

Lindy liked me too, and it took me far too long to figure that out. We went out a few times as friends, and she explained to me that her father was a Deacon in the Mormon church. I was unfamiliar with Mormons at the time. She told me that her rules were simple: No unchaperoned romantic visits, no touching, no cussing, and no R-rated movies. She was magnificent and I was smitten, but I had grown up saturated with religion and did not enjoy the taste of it.

I thought those rules were a bit much for someone who’d just began attending college with a newfound sense of independence, so she started dating a coworker named Mark, not so much because she liked him, but because Mark was willing to follow her rules. She made it very evident that she was still very interested in dating me instead, if only I would agree to be compliant. Unfortunately for the both of us, or maybe fortunately, I am not a compliant man. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I’d compromised. I have that question about a lot of things in life.

One day, a few months later after I started at UMKC, and then moved away from home to live in the frat house, I was back at my parents’ place and found a card that Lindy had posted me at some point at the end of the summer before. I had quit Best Buy right at my one-year mark, after some dispute with a manager named Blair or Blaine. I don’t remember, so we’ll call him Blair. I liked him, he was a good guy, and my dispute was not with him personally. But when we reached my one-year performance review, I got top marks. I was consistently the highest or second highest earner in the entire department. In my estimation, I was earning Best Buy $1,000 in revenue every hour that I worked, and considering the PRPs that I would hawk, I figured that the department was clearing $200 or so in profit for every hour I was there.

In recognition of my success, Blair offered me a generous raise of $0.54 cents per hour. I explained to him my calculation of profit for the department, and he told me that the absolute highest raise that the payroll department could authorize for a one-year-review was $0.85. I asked him why I wasn’t offered that. He said he didn’t know, it was up to payroll, not him. I pointed out I was one of their star earners, what would it take to get the highest raise? He said he didn’t know. I told him I needed $10 per hour to stay on. He said that was not possible, but he would try to get me the extra $0.30. I told him they could keep it. He asked if I meant I didn’t want the raise at all. I told him I didn’t want the job. He said if I left, I couldn’t come back. I asked him why I would want to come back if they couldn’t pay their star earner a measly $10. He said it wasn’t up to him, that he would if he had the power. I said that it wasn’t up to him, but it was certainly up to me, and took off my blue shirt and left.

It took me a while, in my frustration, to realize that I had never actually said goodbye to Lindy. I always regretted that. She was a great gal and though we never actually dated, she at least deserved the respect for our friendship that would have come with saying goodbye to her.

The point of this is, it was a few months later, and by the time I found the card from Lindy, I had already left Best Buy. I read the card eagerly; she sent it while her family was on vacation to Salt Lake City. She said that she was in love with me, that she thought about me all the time, that she would break up with Mark if it meant we’d be together. That she wouldn’t mind if I cussed, that I could watch R-rated movies if I didn’t ask her to, and that maybe she’d find a way that we could break other rules, if things went well between us.

And she sent the card, and after she sent it, before I ever saw her again, I quit Best Buy without saying goodbye, and vanished from her life forever. What a crappy way to leave things, but I was oblivious to her side of the story, and since I never said goodbye, I didn’t get to hear anything she had to say.

The card was open when I’d found it in the pile of mail. I looked at the stamp, it was dated six months prior. What the hell?

“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” I asked my mom.

“I didn’t think you should be getting involved with a girl like that,” my mom replied. “She sounds like trouble! Running around with boys, cussing, watching R-rated movies… that’s not ok.”

“You read it?”

“Of course I did! You’re my son, I read all your mail.”

“Mom, that’s illegal. It’s a federal crime! You can’t open my letters. They’re private.”

“Watch me,” she said, “Sue me. Make a case of it!” She laughed. “I bet they’ll come arrest me!” She laughed harder. This was one of the reasons I moved out abruptly, I didn’t need someone meddling in my affairs, stepping between me and a gal that was smitten, making choices on my behalf that were rightly my own.

I was upset Mom hadn’t told me about Lindy’s card, just buried it at the bottom of the mail pile. I liked Lindy. Lindy was wonderful and she liked me back. I wished I had gotten the card sooner. But in between when I’d quit and when I’d found Lindy’s card, I’d started dating someone else. So I put the card in my things and brought it home with me to the frat house. I don’t know where it went. I don’t know where Lindy went. I’ve always wondered about her. I hope Lindy has had a great life.

Lindy had told me that her father was Deacon at the Mormon church in Independence. I found her religion curious and strange, and thought I’d look into it, learn more about what her life was like. I discovered that the Mormons had fled Ohio because of polygamy, and eventually settled in Salt Lake City. But before they ended up in the high desert, they’d found their own Independence in Missouri, much as I had.

Their Independence, apparently, was within the boundaries of the Garden of Eden. The place of Adam and Eve. What an interesting proposition! Why had nobody ever told me this before? Why, it’s just right over there a few miles! Practically next door! As a Methodist, I had always learned that the Garden of Eden was in Iraq, at the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, along with a third river that no longer existed whose name I can’t recall. It was sealed to humanity, guarded by an angel with a flaming golden sword, forever barring fallen humans from returning to its splendor.

Or apparently not, because I had visited Independence many times, and not a single angel or sword had tried to stop me. Would that they had, I would have found the experience quite interesting.

I learned that the Mormons had built a temple there, with a spire that reached towards the heavens, and had made the decision to add a staircase to that spire, so that when Christ returns, He can land on the steps at the top (Jesus flies now, FYI, in case you hadn’t previously been informed. I’m not sure when this was added to the lore but I think it was after the New Testament). Jesus’ return would be heralded by angels wielding trumpets, and the entire world would turn their head to watch Him land at the top of the Mormon spire in Independence, Missouri, of all the places you could imagine, and walk down this staircase. And that was the temple that Lindy’s dad was responsible for. It’s a big job!

Apparently the staircase ends a few stories above the ground so that nobody else tries to use it. Can you imagine? Walking on Jesus’ staircase? Wow. The unmitigated gall of it.

And you might think it limiting, to stop a few stories above ground, but I figure Jesus is going to have a few things to say to us while He stands there at the bottom of the spire, so it’s somewhat of an impromptu stage as well. And besides, apparently He flies now, I guess, so He’ll just sort of like, float the rest of the way down when He’s good and ready. I’m not really in position to tell Him what to do anyway.

But can you imagine how awkward it would be if he had to wait around killing time while someone went to fetch a ladder? He’s probably got some good miracles he can use to impress everyone to keep the energy up while they get it sorted out if the floating around thing doesn’t work for some reason.

I’m not really sure how it’s all supposed to go, and I never felt like I could tell the King of Kings about His business, but what do I know? I guess those Mormons have a tighter grasp on it than I do.

After all, they have it all figured out down to the inch. It was impressive. I was impressed.

Can you imagine the confidence it takes to build a spire to the heavens, and then inform Jesus, with no space for argument, that it’s His landing pad? The sheer force of will that such a thing requires.

As I read more about Mormonism, I came to understand that the Garden of Eden was a rather large place, and its boundaries somewhat vague. Apparently they were described by a perimeter that had limits somewhere around Independence, somewhere around Omaha, and somewhere around Des Moines. There’s a lot of space in that zone, most of it in Iowa. And here I thought that Hy-Vee was the best thing to ever come from Iowa! As it turns out, the best thing to come from Iowa must have been humanity itself. Go figure. I feel like someone should have told me this sooner. Thanks, Bible.

Anyway, if this is news to you, it was news to me too. Imagine my surprise at the time. The Garden of Eden wasn’t in the Mideast, it was in the Midwest! And right by my home! What luck. Super convenient.

This was revealed to Joseph Smith, the modern prophet. He was a hatmaker by trade, and in those days, hats were made by felting. You’d get a bunch of mercury, and a bunch of wool, and did some stuff – not sure what, exactly – and then you had a hat. It’s a nice skill to have. Apparently Joseph rather liked the way his hats smelled. Not after he wore them and they were all sweaty, but when they were newly made. He’d stick his face in these hats, breathing it all in and meditating, and while his head was spinning, angels would reveal themselves and give him prophesy. It was all very much on the up-and-up, don’t ask too many questions. We’ve all had experiences of the sort, no reason not to believe him. Heck I had an angel give me a gold plate just the other day, and before you ask, no, I won’t let you see it.

As it turns out, while huffing hat fumes, and in between molesting little girls like it was his job (it was in fact his job, he made a career of it, along with his partner in crime, Bring ‘Em Young, sorry spelling error, Brigham Young), Joseph realized that the Garden of Eden was just north of their layover in Independence.

And the name of the angel that revealed these truths to Joseph was none other than Lamoni.

Lamoni, Iowa. The home of Graceland College. Grace land. The Land of Grace. The Garden of Eden. Things were starting to make sense to me now. Actually, in their own way, they were making less sense, but I was at least putting the pieces together.

The reason that the sermons at Graceland in Lamoni were so confusingly fresh is because they were recitations from the Book of Mormon. I poked around a bit, my great-grandmother’s family was Reformed Church of the Latter-Day Saints – Mormon-lite, minus the polygamy. Nobody was that keen to dig into this part, I had to turn it up on my own.

Now, as you all know, the Mormons are very, very progressive people. They believe fully in Jesus’ message, to love our neighbors as ourselves, in acting humanely towards all mankind, in accepting everyone as they are. Pure, unbridled love and acceptance, without reservations.

Who am I kidding? They’re cruel liars who abuse people and brainwash them so that pervy men can fuck a dozen 12-year-olds under the guise of religion. Mormons chase out the young men from own communities, leaving only the rich and connected boys behind to continue the ‘important’ (rich and powerful) lineages, so that there’s more innocent, brainwashed little girls for the old perverts to hoard as “wives”. And if you’re black, whew, don’t inquire to deeply.

Why not ask Mitt Romney why his grampa moved them down to Mexico? What went on there?

These Mormons shake down everyone they can for as much cash as possible, hoarding hundreds of billions of dollars of “tithes”, and spend nothing on their membership, their communities, social programs. Mormons contravene every message Jesus gave us, and spit in His face. Then, in their arrogance, they build a spire to the heavens and inform Jesus that He will arrive at that specific location. What hubris it all has. What unbridled and misplaced self-assuredness. Just like Jesus taught, right?

As you probably know, the Mormon church spent enormous amount of money to oppose California Proposition 15, one of the first laws in the nation to recognize the rights of non-straight persons to marry and have families. They spent gobs of money on the “Defense of Marriage Act” to keep gay people in their place. This is purportedly a church, and yet they would use shadowy organizations to fund political objectives. They humiliate anyone who doesn’t buy into their abusive, manipulative, money-and-control agenda at every turn. The Mormon church ruins lives, most pointedly, the lives of Mormons.

Like Lindy. Whatever became of her? I hope she’s safe and happy somewhere.

And they built a university they called Graceland, in the heart of the Garden of Eden, in the city named for the angel who supposedly revealed this all to Joseph Smith. And on the campus of that University, they built a long wall detailing the life of the University’s pride and joy, the greatest athlete to ever attend Graceland, a multi-gold-medal winning Olympic athlete.

That athlete was Bruce Jenner. Now, Caitlyn Jenner.

I wouldn’t deadname a person in most cases, but in this case, I think it’s important that we take a closer look at the situation. When Caitlyn won these gold medals, she was called Bruce. We cannot change that, the identity that Caitlyn had as an Olympic athlete cannot be changed in retrospect. Bruce Jenner participated as a male athlete, and won those awards with a man’s name, and a man’s gender identity. Yes, we need to respect her identity now, and call her by her name when we discuss her current activities, if we find reason to do that, like how she ran someone over while drunk then tried to use her wealth and gender identity to escape consequences for it, but Caitlyn Jenner did not win those medals, because at that time, Caitlyn was named Bruce.

And Bruce Jenner was the athlete that Mormonism built a shrine to in the purported Garden of Eden.

I have never returned to Lamoni as an adult. I never saw the wall of fame again, the black glittering stone engraved with Bruce’s deeds, inlaid with gold, a testament to Graceland.

While I’ve never gone back, I’ve often wondered what became of it. What did the Mormons make of such a thing?

By my count, I figure they have 3 options: Leave it alone, update it, or tear it down.

If you leave it alone, everyone knows the score. It makes for a tough conversation for a devout Mormon at a Mormon university.

If you update it, you are walking on tricky ground, especially for the Mormons. How do they condemn transgenderism, and yet recognize a transgender person as their greatest champion?

And if you tear it down, well, you erase what came before, and the pride you had in someone, because they later disappointed one of the finer points of your twisted ideology. And if anyone knows what it’s like for their pride to turn to disappointment, take a close look at the modern Mormon church. They have seemingly endless money, but are bleeding membership as more of their flock uncover the financial, spousal, child, and sexual abuses that built and sustain the Mormon church. They are unlikely to last beyond another generation.

I’ve often wondered in the years gone by, whatever happened to Lindy? I don’t even recall her last name. Did she persist in the church? Did she discover its true history? Did she find a way to escape? Or is she still a part of it, blissfully unaware, insulated from the reality of what her father was helping perpetuate in Independence? Did she take a true-believer husband, who has subjugated and oppressed that bright flame of life that was burning so strongly inside her heart when I knew her? Or did she find a man that loved what she was, and supported her, and helped her to be the best version of herself she could be?

Whatever choices she made, wherever Lindy is now, I hope she’s happy. Because no matter how cruel and anti-human the Mormon church may be, Lindy was a wonderful, kind, gentle, loving person, and I’m sure she still is, wherever she may have gone. At least, I hope she is. And I hope she’s had a good life.

And I’ve always wondered what path Graceland chose. Did they leave their shrine to Bruce, did they change it, did they tear it down? Maybe some day I’ll go back and find out. Maybe that day I’ll ride the whee hill again on the way to great grandma’s old farm house.

And maybe while I’m on that journey back to the heart of the Garden of Eden, back to the Land of Grace, I’ll hear trumpets in the sky, and see Jesus Himself descend with a host of angels, to set foot on a spire of hubris built just for Him, by those who know no shame, who violate every lesson of love, compassion, and acceptance that Jesus taught us, Jesus who was killed by the religious authorities for His preaching a message of love and acceptance.

What a curious case indeed.