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Glass Grapes & Grieving

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

As a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in my college years in New England, I learned the craft of creating apple dolls just like the kind sold in the gift shop at Sturbridge Village, the marvelous historical living museum an hour away. Later on I learned how to make everything possible from cranberries. I also learned where to go in the Boston area to do fun things on the cheap. I went for informational strolls with my Relief Society sisters along Boston’s Freedom Trail. I observed – if not really learned – how to change the oil in my car.

As a young mom in Chicago, I learned how to make a canvas teepee for my toddler and faux Cabbage Patch Kid dolls. I learned about constellations. I learned about journal keeping. I learned how to make quiet books. I learned about the Great Chicago Fire. I learned about Black History Day and the words to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – the “Negro National Anthem” first written to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. I learned about Advent traditions and international Christmas celebrations. I learned about poets I’d never heard of.

When my kids were launched I learned about managing personal finances, and all about low-fat cooking, and recycling, and family history research. I learned about navigating the “world wide web” and the struggles of women with fertility issues. I learned how to create school bags and bandages. I helped package laundry soap for the homeless shelter.

I learned things about sisters I didn’t know well as we chatted making gift tags or stirring fudge. I learned that “small talk” isn’t always small. Sometimes it’s the grease that opens the  door for discoveries of common interests or peeks into entirely different ways of living.

I was involved in the short lived period of ward “interest groups” for those who liked to knit or cook or learn about composers or develop software. I survived name change after name change for whatever it is we Relief Society Sisters did every month.

I know many women no longer found “Homemaking” or “Enrichment” or “The Meeting formerly known as…” relevant to their lives. Maybe because I didn’t grow up with the culture, I saw the meetings through different lenses. (Enough so that I wrote books about my little love affairs with the programs specifically for the sisters.) And what was it that we did? For the most part it wasn’t goofy crafts or outdated lessons on table settings or making glass grapes. I realize I was lucky and blessed to live where I did because there were always opportunities to learn about “relevant” subjects, not just to gossip, giggle or use glue sticks. (Not that I mind using glue sticks, I might add.)

Yes, we learned about places and made projects and developed skills and talents. But, in my mind, more important than all of those valuable (and occasionally frivolous) lessons was the sisterhood I developed with women who were my sisters, if not necessarily my closest buddies.

And frankly, I miss that.

I have thought about offering get-togethers at my home on some topics that might appeal to the other women in my new ward in rural Utah – a long way from my previous urban areas. But without it being Church-sanctioned, would people come? I’d be happy to invite everyone up to learn about instant-pots, civic engagement, online shopping or whatever. Maybe I will do that some time.

But I’d like to know about the lives of the sisters around me who have pretty much all known each other for generations and have long established support networks where my “visiting teaching by another name” efforts aren’t needed in the same way. I honestly WANT to know about their granddaughters who ride rodeo. I’d like to know where I can buy eggs fresh from the hen. I’d like to know about the original pioneers of the valley. I’d like to know what the women in the ward (the majority of whom work outside the home, I think) do with their daylight hours. I’d like to know where to go for the best bargains or the freshest bread.

I want to know whose heart needs bolstering or who has intriguing skill sets or who has traveled the world or served in the military or grieved losses like I have. I want to know these women.

But when? And where? And how?

We now have shorter meetings. We don’t say prayers or sing songs in Relief Society anymore. And we only have Relief Society twice a month. I know change is good. I’m all in for sustaining my leaders. Still, I think I’m mourning.

I miss the programs that “forced” us into those associations. A man I knew in a former stake in worked for years with the Boy Scout program. Someone once asked him why he liked working with the scouts so much. He replied that he didn’t really. He was just called to serve there, and he did. He added wryly, “Latter-day Saints go willingly when coerced.”

Before you launch into calling me to repentance and start showering me with all sorts of prescriptions for how to get myself out of this funk, let me assure you that I already know that the A) onus and/or B)opportunity is now mine for the making! It’s time for me to take initiative! To learn the higher law of ministry! To stop being such an introvert and make things happen! If I want something, I’m going to have to make it happen! No one’s stopping me! Seize the day!

I appreciate change and streamlining and cutting out redundancies. I get that.

I just don’t want to toss the sisterhood baby out with the bathwater.

 

 

About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

8 thoughts on “Glass Grapes & Grieving”

  1. Good points! I feel like I’m at a time in my life where I barely have time for my friends, let alone for strangers. So I’m very cool with church being so streamlined. But this reminds me that I still have friendship to give. Although I’m very much an introvert, having been RS Pres it feels very naturally to be outgoing in church and I need to use that for good!

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  2. I do many of those things without the formal church telling me to do it. Sendo me an emaila if you are interested.

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  3. Linda, yes. I think it is important to freeze time for a minute in order to grieve. You are looking at the vista as you hike along a mountain trail. (I hiked Mount Timp many times, and stopping to look behind and ahead was a good way to manage the rigors of the hike and to better process the stages of the hike by how the vista changes.) You are in a distinct space right now–reflecting on the positive aspects of programs that have changed. Stand in your space.

    I can say that with empathy, because people pushed me to move quickly through the space when my daughter left the church. I did not hold her back; it's her choice, but people shoved me with both hands–online and in person–to move like a light switch from one position to another when I described the confusion of changing from parenting a child who sat with me in the pew to a child who stayed home. (And some told me to push her back into the church space; others called me a bully for assuming I shamed her for her transition. Not true.) And now, I have all of my children (granted, only two, but still all) launching within 30 days after being apart from each other for 2 years. People, again, are shoving me to move forward with a different definition of "family" and "parenting." I can visualize where I need to go next as an empty nest parent, but I would like to have a moment to stand on this threshold and reflect in this space before stepping into the next space. It doesn't help me to have people 1. tell me I need to reparent my kids in this small window before they leave or when they tell me 2. get over it and move on now.

    But (more than) enough about me.

    I respect your backward glance over the trail that you have traveled–with fellow travelers. Thank you for articulating the many aspects that you cherish from the years of positive interaction through former programs and wards. I think it helps people to move forward if they take the time to pause to reflect.

    All my best to you, Linda, as you move into a new space and new ways of being in your altered context.

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  4. Amen. Our RS had a service auction two nights ago. It was like an old-time monthly get-together of yesteryear. I loved it. Women in our ward will sometimes have a song or hymn sung as part of their lesson to bring the spirit (that's my plan when I substitute teach in 2 weeks). Women need each other and I think we'll find a way.

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  5. Thank you Linda, for so eloquently stating what I have been thinking recently. By the time I get out of Primary, the foyer and parking lot are almost empty. I miss the opportunity to connect with most of the women in the ward doing activities which are needful, humanitarian & just for fun. Sometimes our hearts are more open when our hands are mutually employed.

    I have no children left in the church and my monthly attendance at fast & testimony mtg at Michael’s memory care nursing home in Utah often leaves me longing for a little more connection with church friends who actually know who I am. On the other hand, the less than 4–5 hours formerly spent at church on Sunday leaves time for the sweet return of the welcome Sunday afternoon nap. ? ?

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