On the sweetness of Mormon life.
Attend a funeral of an old family friend. Remember when you were a pre-schooler toddling across the yard to this grandmotherly figure’s mobile home to cadge food. Attend to this memory. Realize suddenly, eyes tracing the whorls on her casket, how she shaped your mission.
This is the story. We shared a driveway with this woman when I was a pre-schooler and our family was as close to her in intimacy as we were in space. My sister and I would play under the quilt frames listening to the talk of her Relief Society friends while they blocked and sewed. We’d follow her around while she did her housecleaning. We’d pester her for stories. But mostly we’d cadge food.
I’d accept anything edible, boy that I was. But my main prize was sardines.
This woman kept sardines to feed to her cats as a treat. She wouldn’t let us have any very often. She said they were too precious for ordinary snacking. And by withholding them she convinced us. Canned sardines were a rare and luxurious food. The fortunate sampled them.
We moved away while I was in grade school. In the unexamined way that one carries on one’s beliefs, I continued to assume that sardines were a treat for people beyond our income scale or with more refined tastes than us. Sardines don’t often arise in conversation. No one disabused me.
Also when I was a child, I learned to hate pizza. I had my first real go at pizza the night before I woke up with a very bad case of strep throat. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, I reasoned, though not in Latin, and viscerally renounced pizza as the workd of that devil strep. I didn’t eat another bite of it all the while growing up.
Eventually I served a mission. In Spain the missionaries are mostly American. Like all Americans, they covet pizza. Like all missionaries, they could hardly afford any. By a happy coincidence, though, our P-day was on the one day that the Spanish pizza chain offered a two-for-one deal that made pizza just barely affordable to a companionship. I am not exaggerating if I say that on most Mondays, literally every companionship in the mission was at Telepizza.
But I wouldn’t buy. Which meant my companion wouldn’t either.
Missionary companionships are hard. You must have harmony to have the Spirit as you teach. You must also have it almost just to live. At the same time, the hard demands of missionary service and the hard rejections of the people you are trying to teach make smooth companionship almost impossible. Under such conditions, any irritant is explosive.
My refusal to eat pizza was an irritant–to other Americans, it was somehow just wrong. But my refusal to buy a pizza on Mondays was more than an irritant. It was explosive. You, the reader, will have a hard time taking me seriously. Could not eating pizza really make you a less effective missionary? Yes, in my case. I have no doubt.
One Monday my companion and I are sitting at Telepizza with a missionary group. They are eating pizza, I am toying with a menu, and my companion is staring at me. I notice a word I didn’t know. Anchoa, if memory serves. What’s this? I ask. Anchovies, he says. What are anchovies? I ask. Like sardines, he says.
I order a pizza.