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Authors: Lance Allred

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BOOK: Longshot
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When I was six years old, my father wasn't quite ready for the great shift and simply moved us to Utah to reunite with his father's family and followers there, where Marvin Jessop would no longer have sway over his life. Marvin got Pinesdale all to himself, and his brother Morris got my father's Tudor home.

4

We moved to a house
in Murray, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, in the fall of 1987. It was a long eight-hour drive from Montana; it was light-years away from all that I knew. It was there, away from the security of Pinesdale, that I became aware of how truly different I was.

I attended the first and second grades at Grant Elementary. At the age of six, I was bigger than most of the kids in the school, and I had these large “things” sticking out of and over my ears, and I wasn't a regular Mormon—something they deduced, for I didn't attend church with any of the kids at school. Even though, technically, we were Mormon as we based our beliefs on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, we were outcasts: any person caught in a polygamous marriage was immediately excommunicated from the LDS church. No one at Grant Elementary knew that I was of polygamist stock, as I never told, nor did I dare.

The kids liked to taunt me. There were these three kids, who were older than me, that liked to torment me, and take my hearing aids and throw them around and make me chase after them. One day they ganged up on me and trapped me in the bathroom, pinned me down, pulled off my pants, and ran out. Another boy walked in as they ran out with my pants and was kind enough to find a hall monitor. My pants were found and returned to me in my stall, where I quietly cried against the door.

I never pointed out my tormentors. I didn't want to be that kid. I wanted to fight my battles myself, or at least suffer the humiliation alone. I was more embarrassed than I was traumatized and didn't want my family to know that my pants had been taken from me. Court did his best to protect me. He was a wonderful brother, despite my pettiness towards him and my deliberate attempts to irritate him at times—things that younger siblings can't resist. I taunted Court as it was the only way I could feel tough, and Court was kind enough to let me.

With our new financials struggles, my mother had to take a job and could no longer be the stay-at-home mom I was accustomed to. She wasn't there when Court and I left for school in the morning, nor was she there when we got home in the afternoon. This life was so incredibly different from the cozy one that I had in Montana.

Whenever I had the nerve or gall to have myself a bad day and let it be known by being grumpy, or pouty, or maybe even shedding a tiny, little tear, my father would not only fail to validate that I might have reason to have a bad day, but would instead dismiss my problem with some bunkum and clichés about how I was the only one who could affect my attitude. Then one day after he was nearing the end of his repertoire of clichés, he finally figured how to deflect me and my moodiness with a catchy little question that stuck, followed, and haunted me for the remainder of my childhood. It ultimately became synonymous with me as a human being: “Lance, do you want to be the Big Lance or the Little Lance?”

My father read a story, in one of his “how to win friends and influence people” genre books that were endlessly stacked in his library, about a man who motivated himself by asking, “Crusoe, are you the big or the little Crusoe? Little Crusoe, leave me!”

For reasons that are beyond me, my father never used this ploy with any of his other children. Nay, I'd be the lone subject of this hokey parenting experiment. Whenever I was mad,
every time,
one of my parents would call, “Lance…,” with insinuating eyebrows, “Big Lance or Little Lance?” They asked this tedious question, feigning concern for my long-term development, when really it had just become for them a conditioned response, like a dog barking at a knocking door.

To their credit, it was a very effective conversation ender. Even if I had made the most staggering, incontrovertible point in an argument, it mattered little, for they'd always counter with “Big Lance or Little Lance?” Trying to get them to see my point was like trying to get a Baptist to read the Koran.

“But, Dad, we both know that Tara hit me and stuck her tongue out at me when Mom was disciplining me. You just saw it!”

“Lance…” My father would say indifferently as he clinked his silverware, as only my father can, against the bowl he held in his hand, scooping and chiseling for the last little speck of Grape-Nuts in his bowl. So focused was my father whenever he ate a bowl of cereal that he didn't care if he had to chip away and eat some of the glass bowl as long as he got that last little bit of Grape-Nuts. He then set the bowl down in the
sink (no one fills up a kitchen sink faster than my old man) and pulled out his dental floss, proceeding to talk as he flossed his teeth, etiquette be damned. “Do you want…”—he pulled away the floss and then sucked from the floss some of the crumbs he managed to wrangle free from his gums—“…to be the Big Lance or the Little Lance?”

Or another scenario: “Mom, I don't want to go to speech therapy.”

“Do you want to be the Big Lance or the Little Lance?”

Or another: “Dad, I think I'm bleeding internally.”

“Big Lance or Little Lance?”

And: “Dad, there's a man in the back lawn giving me a creepy look while cupping his hands on the window.”

“Son, do you want to be the Big Lance or the Little Lance?

Or: “Dad—”

“Big Lance or Little Lance?”

Or: “Dad! I just cured cancer!”

“Do you want to be the Big Lance or the Little Lance?”

This pep-talk technique that Mom and Dad used on me reached its zenith the day I learned my first bad word. It was a harmless word really.

“Kids, come eat!” Mom yelled as we five hungry blonds poured down the stairs. The table was set, pleasantries were exchanged, a prayer was offered, and we each stated something positive about one of our siblings. The spaghetti was passed, with the sauce, hot in its pan, remaining in the center. Father sat at the helm with his helpmate across from him: “So, Raphael, how did your test go today?”

“Splendid, dear Father, I thank you.”

“That's swell, Vanessa—”

“Pass the fucking bread, please.”

One of my elder sisters had already started to pick up the bread when she stopped, having fully processed what I had just said. Gasps abounded, and a moment of incredulous shock crashed the tranquillity of the dinner, as though we had all just witnessed a public hanging.

“Lance!”

“Lance!”

“Lance!”

“Lance!”

“Lance!”

“Lance!” spewed from each open mouth circling the dining table, echoing off the walls in the sudden stillness.

“You cannot say that, not only at the dinner table, but anywhere.”

I raised my hands to protest innocence: “But I said ‘please.'”

“It does not matter,” Mother reprimanded me. “Don't use that language in our home. Your friends may say that at school, but I don't want you to use that language ever.”

The family stared disapprovingly at me, their black sheep of a child, the youngest of the batch, who was only trying to find a way to establish his own identity amid the dominant elder sisters who talked all night at the dinner table, never caring about anyone's accomplishments but their own, taking turns telling the parents about how awesome they were.

“OK,” I sighed.

Silverware tinkled and clinked, chiseling through the icy tension of disappointment that hovered over the dinner table. Dad cleared his throat, his face still flushed from the previous moment's impudence.

“So, Vanessa, did you answer that boy back yet, about prom?

“Well, not—”

“Pass me the fucking butter.” If “
please”
didn't work, why use it? I reasoned.

“Lance! Big Lance? Or Little Lance?”

 

My father's mother, Myrtle, lived in Taylorsville, which was another suburb of Salt Lake, connected to Murray. We got to see her every Sunday when we attended Sunday school, which was held in the fourplex owned by the AUB.

Sunday school and church sessions were always fun in the Group. We used huge drinking glasses for the water that we anointed as a token of the blood of Christ, which we passed from person to person, letting each drink from the glass. There were a lot of old ladies at Sunday school, most of them widows of Rulon who wore really rich and thick makeup, including lipstick that spread like peanut butter. You waited for the glass to be passed around, up and down the rows, everyone putting their mouth on it, backwashing and leaving lipstick marks, and by the time you got it, you were rotating the cup to find a spot that wasn't marked with lipstick where you could safely place your lips. I always got to see Grammy at Sunday school, and she was one of the better widows, as her makeup wasn't too generous.

Grammy always said her favorite color was purple. I never believed her, because she was all green. Everything in her living space was green:
Green table, green carpet, green counter, green dishes, green wallpaper, green Tupperware holders that housed pumpkin cookies if it was the right day of the week. Green silverware handles, green sofa and love seat, and a green toilet to accompany the green soap on the green counter in the green bathroom.

When Grammy served food, she made sure you ate it all. She never let me remove myself from her kitchen table until I had finished my entire bowl of cornflakes. I'd oblige and drink my milk, but then she would grab me and say there was still more, pointing to the soggy, spongy, half-dried-up pieces of cereal that clung to the upper fringes of the bowl. After a weak protest, which was futile, I'd peel away the cornflakes like scabs, placing them one by one in my mouth, shuddering as each one leeched to the roof of my mouth.

With every meal she had home-baked wheat bread, cold butter, and homemade apricot jam. It's strange, but if I see any sort of liquid or gelatinous substance with chunks in it, like chunky jam or globby Cream of Wheat, I won't eat it. This, and my inability to eat meat from bones, are my two quirks when it comes to food. When I'm eating meat from bones and see ligaments and tendons rip from chicken legs, I recall all the sprained knees and ankles I have endured and lose my appetite.

Another issue with homemade jam is that jam jars are prime nesting grounds for fruit flies. And fruit flies are my biggest phobia. Dad always made himself a jam sandwich each morning before he left for work, but he
never
put the lid back on. After I woke up, I'd walk into the kitchen, hitting my head on an open cupboard door—which Dad never closed, either—only to discover that fruit flies had miraculously appeared out of nowhere. Seriously, where the hell do they come from? They mocked me as they congregated at the jam jar, circling about the open lid as though they were all having an intense philosophical debate, all the while enjoying a wonderful meal.

The focus of Grammy's living room was a shrine to Rulon and his many wives: a huge hand-carved oak board covered with a collage of pictures of the entire family. I often stared at it, examining all the black-and-white photos of my grandfather and his wives and children. I liked to play Where's Waldo? with photos of my father, looking for him in the sea of forty-four childish faces. However, Grammy, who was very savvy
and saw into the future, knew this question of identity would become an issue, so she made all three of her sons of the proud Lloyd lineage wear matching homemade striped button shirts in all their family photos. Consequently, my father, Vance Lloyd Allred, was pretty easy to find, along with his older brothers, Saul Allred and Lloyd George Allred. Grammy loved that Lloyd name.

Once you made an impression on Grammy, it stuck. For good or bad. She had favorites. Some of her impressions made no sense, but not the one she had of me. I was known as her “most polite grandchild.” Neither the fact that this public coronation came when Grammy was well lost in her senility, nor the fact that her anointing came at the tail end of her most recent narration of her latest bowel struggle, made it any less true. It was a title that was hard-won and maintained with integrity.

 

I was in the second grade when the tension between me and Tara reached its apex. When Mom had to start working, Tara decided she was my surrogate mother and began to boss me around all day. If I didn't comply, she'd slap me. Being the little tattler she was, she loved to scamper off to Mom at the slightest excuse. Mom would call me down and say, “Lance, you can either apologize to Tara or have time-out.”
*

Without skipping a beat, I bluntly declared, “Time-out,” and walked to my stool in the corner of the kitchen to assume my post. I sat there in silence, satisfied and content. Mom and the rest of the family went about their business, while Tara, livid red, would stay, dedicating herself to the task of standing watch over the timer to make sure I served my full punishment. But I was savvy enough to see I had won the battle. It was war, and I was, and still am, a believer in self-sacrifice for the greater good, for victory in the long run. No shame in moral victories.

One Christmas I came up with a scenario that I knew would blindside Tara. Each Allred child received an Advent calendar with pieces of rich milk chocolate behind twenty-four little doors. Each door was labeled with a date counting down to Christmas. Being the calculating child that I was, I snuck into Tara's room on the day we got our Advent calendars,
and found hers. I opened the last door—the twenty-fourth, the one with the biggest piece of chocolate—ate my prize, and then sealed the door shut. I waited with delicious anticipation for twenty-three days, my excitement rising each day, until the morning of Christmas Eve, when a shrill shrieking woke up the house: “Who ate my chocolate?!”

Although I couldn't hear exactly what was screamed, as I don't sleep with my hearing aids in, I knew it was Tara, and I just imagined her holding her empty calendar. I smiled, pleased that it had been as rewarding as I had hoped. I then yawned, leaned over and patted Szen, and went back to sleep. A few minutes later my room was bombarded by my mother—with Tara behind her, scowling, nostrils flaring.
*

BOOK: Longshot
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