A Conversation With a Stranger

I was at the local swimming pool the other day and I noticed a woman reading a book — a real, live book! with a highlighter! Initially, it was the novelty of someone reading a book instead of scrolling on their phone that caught my attention.

But then I recognized the cover of the book she was studying. It was Let’s Talk about Polygamy by Brittany Chapman Nash.

The book being read by the woman at the public pool.

My LDS friend (who, let’s face it, is obsessed with polygamy) recommended this book to me a few months ago. I checked it out from the library but only read a chapter or two before it was due back. I frequently listen to audiobooks, but I’m not very good at finding time to sit still and just read a book, so if I’d found this book in audiobook format, I could have listened to it in no time. Can anyone relate?

Anyway, when I saw the stranger sitting on the pool deck reading and highlighting this book, I decided to go talk to her. I was curious why she was interested in reading it at all, much less studying it so closely. I wondered what she thought of polygamy and whether she knew any polygamists personally.

I didn’t know how she’d respond to me coming up and talking to her out of the blue. Maybe she’d think it was weird or maybe she’d refuse to talk to me, but I also knew I’d regret it if I went home without attempting to strike up a conversation.

So when my baby needed a nursing break from our swim in the cold water, I wrapped him in a fluffy towel and we went and sat near my new bibliophilic friend. Between her AirPods and her concentration on her book, it took me a minute to catch her attention, but I found success.

We had a nice chat. I learned she’s in the mainstream LDS Church and she’s interested in the history of Mormon plural families in the late 1800s running from the law and/or hiding from raids.

I told her a little of my own story.

Yes, we all live together.

I had 3 children at the time Melissa married Joshua; now I have 5 and she has 2 (not to mention her grown children from her first marriage), but I often say simply that I have 7 children. I love saying it: “I have seven children.” It feels a little like cheating, since I only gave birth to 5 of them.

My sisterwife’s preschooler calls me “Mama Charlotte”, which I find very sweet.

I told her briefly about my aunt, who decades ago became convinced that polygamy was required in order to go to the highest degree of heaven. She begged her husband to take another wife. When he refused, she left him and her 4 small children and went and became someone’s second wife. That plural marriage didn’t last, but the trauma it caused her children did; even now, some 35 or 40 years later, when they refer to “Mom” they’re speaking of their stepmother, the heroic woman who stepped in and raised them when their overzealous mother wouldn’t.

The ripping apart of a family by someone too eager to live “The Principle” almost definitely contributed to my aunt’s brother (my father) reacting negatively when he found out his own daughter (me) had decided polygamy was for her as well. The big difference is that in my aunt’s case, her choice led to her children losing a mother, and in my case, it led to my children gaining one.

By the way, I don’t want to mention my father without also mentioning that altho things were rough at first, in time, my parents have really come around. They even consider Melissa and Joshua’s children to be their grandchildren, which is a dream come true for me.

Back to the deck of the pool. Yes, the book-reading stranger has met polygamists before; in fact, she’s friends with one that goes to a certain fundamentalist Mormon sect that meets not too far from here. She was curious whether we’re in that one? But no, we haven’t joined another group, and probably never will.

We aren’t members of a Church? Do we have community? Yes, a wonderful one we’ve built for ourselves. The families we hang out with the most are a mix of polygamists, monogamists, and single people; polygamy is certainly not a prerequisite for being friends with us. The two main things our closest friends share with us are (1) They have Mormonism in their background and (2) They believe in keeping the Torah, which has become a big part of our religion (I would even say a larger part than our Mormonism).

By the way, my husband Joshua was recently invited on to The Mormon Renegade Podcast to do a series of interviews on the topic of Torah, Mormonism, and especially the celebration of Biblical holidays.

I occasionally get emails from readers asking when I’m finally going to write more of my story on my blog. The answer is “In good time” but for those of you who don’t want to wait, go listen to episode #15 of that podcast. In it, Joshua tells the interviewer the story of how we became polygamists.

Which is what I did with the woman at the swimming pool a few days ago, something that never would have happened if I wasn’t a polygamist.

What it’s like living in Kody Brown’s old house

I live in the house from Seasons 1 and 2 of Sister Wives. The house was built with a plural family in mind and has 6000 square feet with 3 separate “apartments,” all connected on the inside.

The 3 apartments have their own separate entrances, kitchens, laundry rooms, and master bedrooms, so each wife has her own space. But since they’re connected on the inside, to a plural family, it has many benefits of a single-family dwelling. (Technically — according to the city and the post office, for instance– it is a single-family dwelling, despite my talk of different “apartments”.)

The house is described on the Wikipedia page “List of Sister Wives episodes”:

They live in a ranch-style home that, although interconnected, is subdivided into three separate apartments that give each wife her own bedroom, kitchen and living space.

(By the way, the Sister Wives episodes stopped getting updated on that Wikipedia page a couple of years ago, so if you’re an avid watcher, maybe you should tackle the job of editing that page.)

One of the funny things about living here is that I get mail for Kody, Meri, Janelle, and Christine Brown on a regular basis. I’m sometimes tempted to see if anyone on eBay would like to buy it as an amusing souvenir, just like I’m tempted to save it up for a few days and upload to this post a photo of all of it, but both those things seem like an invasion of privacy that I wouldn’t like done to me (golden rule and all that), not to mention it might be illegal (USPS and all that), so I will refrain.

Another funny thing about living in this house is that every once in a while we’ll notice someone driving past really slowly with their phone/camera out. You can read one fan’s accounts of doing just that in this blog post. You could do the same, but you could also save yourself the trouble by just looking at this photo of the house on the Sister Wives Wikipedia page:

Kody Brown's house as shown on Wikipedia
photo from the Sister Wives Wikipedia page

Or another option if you haven’t seen it yet: here is a 3-minute video from Sister Wives that will take you on a brief virtual tour.

Screenshot 2018-02-04 22.52.10
screenshot from the TLC.com video showing Kody giving a tour of the house

The house was formerly only the 2 apartments on the right, but from what I understand, the man who owned it before Kody Brown added on the 3rd apartment.

Screenshot 2018-02-05 05.51.14
cross-section of the house showing which of Kody’s wives lived in which apartment

I live in the upper right part of the house, the one in which Meri lived with her daughter Mariah. The plan is for my sisterwife to move in with me this summer; she’ll live in the apartment Janelle was in (the whole left side).

One day, before we bought it from the Browns but after they had moved away from Utah, they were back at their Lehi house for a visit with some mutual friends and us, and some of their fans drove by. They knew the house and recognized their car as the Browns, so they decided to try their luck, and they stopped and got out. Joshua (my husband) was outside at the time, and he came inside to tell Kody and Meri some of their adoring fans wanted to meet them. Kody refused to go out and meet them — he said he didn’t want to encourage strangers to show up at his house, but he was happy to talk to fans when they saw him in public — but Meri was nice and went out to pose for a photo or give her autograph or whatever.

Shortly before we bought the Lehi house in the summer of 2016, the Browns filmed an episode here. I assume that episode was airing when he tweeted about the sale:

Screenshot 2018-02-03 18.07.20
Kody Brown’s tweet about the sale of the Lehi house. (Yes, Kathleen Jones @dancerndreamer9, a polygamous family did buy it.)

We don’t generally tell friends and acquaintances the history of the house before they come for a visit, but people occasionally recognize it when they arrive here for the first time.

Once, we were driving home from swimming lessons. My children and I were all dressed in our swimsuits and I didn’t have my cell phone or wallet. We saw a vegetable stand being run by a couple of boys, and I pulled over for just a minute to buy some cucumbers and jalapeños. (Since I didn’t have my wallet or purse, I could only spend as much as I had coins in my car’s ashtray. 🙂 ) When we buckled back in to drive away, my car wouldn’t start. The mom of one of the boys felt bad for me and gave all of us a ride home. (The vegetable-selling-boys felt sorry for as us well and gave us free jalapeños. 🙂 ) As I gave the woman the final step of driving directions to get to the Lehi house, she said, “Oh! That’s the Browns’ house! Do you know them? Are you renting it from them?”

That experience was kind of funny, and not an isolated incident. Another time, we gave some friends permission to host a charity yard sale here (the yard is big, there’s plenty of parking, and the city is more centrally-located than where they live) and one of the families that came from two counties away to support the yard sale recognized the house from the TV show.

I was texting with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. I never told her I had become a polygamist in the meantime, and out of nowhere she asks if I was practicing polygamy. To this day she swears she knew it out of pure instinct (I think she credited her “womanly intuition”). Anyway, I confirmed she was right, and she told me she’d been watching Sister Wives for years and was slightly obsessed with polygamy (although she doesn’t want to live it), and I said, ha ha I actually live in Kody Brown’s old house. She and I had been trying to get together for ages and had never been able to make it work out, but the pull of seeing the Lehi house up-close-and-in-person was strong enough that she made the hour-plus drive to see me only 3 days after that texting conversation. 🙂

(If you wanted to see the inside of the Lehi house, one way you could invite yourself in would be to pretend you’re interested in Mormon fellowships and attend one of the church-y meetings we hold here most Sundays, which reminds me: a person or two who has shown up to the fellowship has recognized the Lehi house as well.)

So far I’ve been living here for about 18 months, and we haven’t lived here as a plural family yet, but I’ve still loved living in a house like this one, and I’m constantly baffled that more people (monogamous or polygamous) don’t build houses with similar layouts. The other people that live here and I are able to be supportive of each other without having to go through the difficulties of sharing living space. Over the holidays, we had a couple of out-of-town families stay here, and they were able to come and go between the 3 apartments as they wished, depending on whom they wanted to visit and what they wanted to do.

Other things I like about living here:

  • Janelle’s old apartment has an 800-square-foot kitchen that we’ve stashed lots of tables and chairs in, which we often use for events (such as our weekly fellowship, family parties, and our celebrations of the Biblical feasts whenever we extend the invitation beyond our immediate family).

Screenshot 2018-02-06 22.16.17
Janelle’s huge kitchen

  • The lot size is slightly more than an acre, so there’s plenty of room for what we want to do with the land. (1 acre might not sound like a ton of land if you’re a farmer, but it’s the biggest piece of land I’ve ever owned.) So far there are some fruit trees, a shed, a garden, a “forest” for the kids to play in, a big yard with a sprinkling system, 2 back decks, and a parked family member’s school bus, which is slowly being converted into an RV.
  • The driveway fits 7 or 8 cars, depending on how poorly everyone parks. 🙂
  • Right across the street is a field with horses, which in my opinion make excellent neighbors.
  • Even though it feels rural here, we’re within 5 minutes of the freeway, our bank, and our main shopping locations.
  • The apartments my family doesn’t currently need have been pretty easy to rent out to extended family/friends.
  • The neighbors are sympathetic to plural families, which is extremely nice.
Note: I’ve never actually watched Sister Wives, so please forgive any errors about the TV show. Feel free to leave a comment correcting anything I got wrong.
Update on November 12th, 2022: Melissa and I started watching Sister Wives.  See blog posts here.