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Posted by: donbagley ( )
Date: February 02, 2023 08:22PM

Sidewalk Skeletons

I had hosed off the narrow sidewalk alongside my house and was about to put up the hose when the odor of chlorine tickled my nose, and I went Billy Pilgrim. I was eight, and it was a hot, dry summer day in Citrus Heights, California. The side sidewalk was wet underfoot, and I was wearing a swimming suit and running with my brothers, my sister, and the Flint kids, Jane, Russell, and Barry, from across the street. Both our families had above-ground pools in our respective back yards. We ran back and forth, pool to pool, trying to determine which was cooler. Our filters hummed underwater.

My brothers and I liked to lie face-down on the concrete sidewalk while soaking wet. When we pulled up, it would make a suction sound, and there would be dark skeletal impressions of our bodies that would fade in the brutal sunlight like a vanishing Shroud of Turin. I popped a whole roll of caps on that sidewalk with a hammer. The bang echoed off the sides of garages and houses. It was like a firecracker.

There was an empty house about halfway down the street. The Flint kids said not to mess with it, which I took as a challenge. My two brothers in tow, I opened the gate to the empty house’s backyard. There was a large window on the back of the house, with the living room behind it, like our house. Back then I guess people wanted to look at their back yards instead of facing the grim reality of neighbors as financially nervous as themselves. Inside the window I saw that someone had painted an entire wall with a Hawaiin beach scene. Hawaii was considered Shangi-La to Californians. “How About a Nice Hawaiian Punch?”

There was a shed right against the house, and I calculated that I could climb it and gain access to the roof. That would be cool. So I did get up on the roof, and my brothers got up too. We found dozens of these tiny flat packages. They contained new razor blades, so we had that going for us. Some kind of loot. You could use the razor to amputate or decapitate a green army soldier. Melt him on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass.

On the way back to our house, my brothers and I saw a bright object in the afternoon sky. It was tiny and squarish, like a postage stamp seen from across the room. But it was sun-bright, and it hurt our eyes to look at it. I didn’t think of metal reflecting sunlight at the time, so I couldn’t understand the light source. It moved too slowly to be an airplane. Surely it was a sign of end times in the sky, which was something I was taught in Sunday school and a favorite obsession of my father’s. Naturally, I told him about our sighting.

“Ha ha,” he laughed, “you boys have some imagination. You won’t be shown signs until you have the priesthood like I do.”

I didn’t think I wanted the priesthood, as it insisted upon itself so much. They taught me at church that dinosaurs never existed. But at school I saw photos of the bones. My father was losing credibility one thin slice at a time, like those razor blades we found on the roof. It was as if he dropped them into a well, one by one, every time he told me a lie. “No one can ever be successful without the church.” One razor goes whirling down into darkness. “Coffee is evil and of the devil.” Another razor flashes once or twice on its way down. “Our church authorities have warned us about the Beatles.” Throw down two Occam’s for that. The man could make reason stare.

Then I was back in the present moment, and I put up the hose. I had the feeling that there was another chore that needed my attention, but that runaway had already stepped into the van.

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Posted by: Silence is Golden ( )
Date: February 02, 2023 10:39PM

Dad was a doctor.

I would sit in his office on those stone metal chairs, waiting for him to finish up an appointment. Some times it was someone he knew from the church, he would either wave the fee or take a reduced price. I sat in the heat of summer in the car with windows rolled down after sacrament meeting, waiting for him to finish a visit to the sick member, free of charge.

As a teen I would find him each morning waiting for me, so he could drive me to school, there we would sit, waiting for my sisters who were always late. I had a friend who injured himself, and at 1:00 A.M. my father drove us to his office and stiched him up, free of charge.

I sat in tithing settlement for the family while he wrote out a check to the bishop to cover anything he missed, this occured year after year. He took groceries to those in need, paid my Uncles bills in desperate times. I remember I was sick one night and barfed all over the bed, there he was stripping down the sheets, cleaning me up, and checking my temperature. One time I had a severe fever as a teen and he was furious with himself that he had not noticed.

My father would not get home until around 7PM during the summer and then he would go outside and build concrete steps or some other things that needed to be done. Quietly he went about his days, he would have his angry moments, but for the most part we just ignored those moments.

He was not one of the popular ones, so his church callings were little things like teaching primary. He is in a senior center now, unable to walk anymore, and spends his days staring at a TV or listening to music. I call him and he laments about how he is going to hell, and the church must be true, because JS could not have written the Book of Mormon. He is filled with guilt, and it cuts me deep to the core a bunch of so called inspired men have no problem with that, while they continue to build their money stash through the efforts of people like my father.

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Posted by: donbagley ( )
Date: February 03, 2023 04:47AM

I hear you.

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Posted by: summer ( )
Date: February 03, 2023 05:18AM

Your father sounds like a wonderful man. I'm sorry that the Mormons have used and abused his good will.

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Posted by: Eric K ( )
Date: February 03, 2023 08:31AM

It is sad, Silence is Golden, how the Mormon church ruins lives. Your dad was a good man in spite of the corporation. It seems to be common among Mormons to fear death and feel being harshly judged by god for being human - even a compassionate human as generous as your dad. In the corporation you are never good enough and that teaching is reinforced throughout active membership. It is a tough to overcome that self image when it is constantly beat into you. It is not right for him to suffer from that.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/03/2023 08:32AM by Eric K.

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Posted by: Lot's Wife ( )
Date: February 03, 2023 01:42PM


I was excited to read another Don Bagley story and ecstatic to see an allusion to those of us who periodically come unstuck in time. But what makes Bagley particularly rewarding is the emotional depth of his stories, the juxtaposition of the mundane and the numinous.

And then his reminiscence is followed by your emotionally resonant post. My father was not a doctor but he was a church leader, who dragged us from place to place and made us sit in a second- or third-hand Ford sometimes for two or three hot summer hours at a time waiting for whatever it was he did in his church office or in a member's home. And while he did not die in guilt, he did spend his last years disillusioned and silently regretful that he had for decades sacrificed the needs of his family to an organization that didn't care for him or for them.

Thanks to you both.

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Posted by: sd ( )
Date: February 03, 2023 05:17PM

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Posted by: Lot's Wife ( )
Date: February 03, 2023 05:23PM

It's not just the writing.

It's the memory for detail, the sensitivity to nuance, the literacy, and the abstraction as well.

So yeah, this can can write!

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Posted by: dagny ( )
Date: February 03, 2023 05:45PM

Yes, indeed. Great writing there.

donbagley, that was a joy to read. Thanks.

What a great thread.

(sd, I'm almost finished with a book you recommended which has also been a very fun read for multiple reasons.)

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