The Hostess

By Shelah Miner

Before moving to Salt Lake City four years ago, we lived in Houston, Texas, where it’s hot and humid for nine months every year. The only people who visited us were family members, and they only came voluntarily between the months of October and April. We’d trot them out to the beach, and to Central Market (a grocery store that is truly a sightseeing experience). We’d stuff ourselves sick at The Chocolate Bar and visit a few museums and parks, and then they’d get back on the plane and feel satisfied that they’d “done the Houston thing.”

Before that, we lived in Rochester, Minnesota, where the biggest sightseeing attractions was the hospital (impressive for a drive-by, but not really a place to visit unless you have a mysterious and dire illness). The Twin Cities, an hour and a half away, was too far for a satisfying day trip. And in the winter, we’d be buried under feet of snow. When people came to visit, it was only to see the grandkids.

It had been a long time since we’d lived somewhere cool enough that people actually wanted to visit, so we were in for a bit of a surprise when we moved to Salt Lake City a few years ago. Growing up in the NYC suburbs, I’m not sure that I would have considered a town of a couple hundred thousand way out in the middle of the mountains a popular destination, but once I became Mormon, all that changed. Utah was mecca, the promised land, the place you went when you loaded up the minivan and headed west.

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In our Lovely Deseret

By Hildie Westenhaver


I love it and I hate it.

I am not from there (although my mother is). I am from The Mission Field. Like most Mormons Utah was always in the periphery of my life. It was the destination of many summer roadtrips, the place where all things churchy originated, the land where many members of my childhood ward were always coming from or longing to return to.

I went to college in Utah. I enjoyed it immensely and eventually my husband and I decided to move back there with our children.

But we didn’t enjoy it. I don’t know if it was our ward or our neighborhood but we never felt like we belonged. We moved from a place where the members of the Church were very closely knit. When we moved to Utah we expected the same but it never happened.

Utahns are very friendly by nature. Friendliness was never the problem. It was more a matter of feeling excluded. After all it’s a little hard squeezing new acquaintances into a life already full of cousins, high school friends and old mission companions. We spent five years feeling like wallflowers at a stake dance.

Now we live in Texas. Our ward is our family and our best friends; a necessity in a place where most people are transplants from somewhere else. I love it here and although I love to visit Utah (where else can I stock up on modest clothes?), I wouldn’t want to move back.

Last week I ran into a nonmember who had lived in Utah for a couple of years. “I hated it!” she exclaimed. “Everyone ignored us because we weren’t members of the Church.” Au contraire, I had to explain. I was a member of the Church who went to every single Relief Society dinner and ward activity. And I still felt excluded.

It’s not about the Church, a fact which is hard for non-members in Utah to understand. It’s about trying to fit into a culture where people have a huge support network already in place. Lots of people in Utah are part of families who have been there forever. Or they marry into a family that has been there forever.

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