Saturday, February 2, 2013

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West Provo

West Provo

I grew up in West Provo, Utah, within spitting distance of the city county border. 33 Mormon families from Salt Lake City settled Provo in 1849, and up until 1982, the year I was born, the population was predominantly Mormon. Provo is part of Utah County, and if you live there for very long, you will hear the place described as Happy Valley. Utah County is the solid core of the Book of Mormon belt, a product of early Mormon settlements in the western states. Beginning in Utah, the belt extends northward through western Wyoming and eastern Idaho to Yellowstone National Park. It reaches south to San Bernardino, California on the west and through Mesa, Arizona on the east, continuing southward to the U.S.-Mexico border. In the late 80’s, over 90% of Utah County’s residents were members of the Mormon Church.
I was often told that Mormonism was the minority in the rest of the world, and if I left Utah County, my religion would be viewed as strange. “Hold to your faith when faced with discrimination,” was common advice given to someone leaving the state. I didn’t understand it until I left years later.
In my youth, I moved through my daily life—school, grocery store, gas station—safely assuming that nearly everyone I encountered, every day, shared my religion. As a child, I could stand on the steps of our chapel and see the steeples of two more. A large white “Y” with exaggerated serifs rested on the mountain side, a constant reminder that Brigham Young University was on the east side of town.
I always assumed Utah County earned the name Happy Valley because after decades of persecution, after the Extermination Order was issued in 1838 by Governor Bogs of Missouri stating that Mormons were to be exterminated or driven from the State, after being force migrated in droves from Europe, the East Coast, and the Midwest, Utah County was a place where Mormons could freely practice their faith among the comfort of other Mormons, a place where temples could be erected, freely, without protest or fire. Utah County was a land of Mormons built by Mormons. It was our Zion. Although I was often told that growing up Mormon in Utah County was a huge blessing, I often felt smothered by the ubiquity of my faith.
Provo’s population was nearly 80,000, but it didn’t feel like a city on the west side. West Provo was afloat on an inland sea of dry gray earth and surrounded by hay and alfalfa fields, a pocket of rural living two miles from the nearest suburb. We were beef, dairy, and dirt farmers. Neighbors talked about water, crops, and livestock. We prayed that God would bless the land and we fought the approaching city each time some slick developer proposed a new crop of homes. On a clear summer day I could see the desert brown grass mixed with green sagebrush and barren cliffs on the east side of Mount Timpanogos. I could see the tree line. I could see the snow pack on the mountaintops. 9-months out of the year the cattle and sheep chewed cud a little slower in the 95 plus heat. It was a place where water rights were worth as much as the land and farmers harvested at night.


gunnfam said...

That was awesome! Took me completely back to being 8 years old. Thank you for writing that. If you write anymore about Provo let me know. I actually did a drive by of the old place last week and couldn't believe how much has changed! Linda's house is gone, the guy on the corner with the blue heelers is gone (can't remember his name) and so many new developments I couldn't believe it. But then Big Hinckley drove past me in one of his tractors...and all was right with the world.

Clint Edwards said...

I am really glad that you enjoyed it. This is from the book I am working on. It is all set in Provo. If you'd like, I could send you a few chapters.