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.
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.