And My Mom Wonders Why I Moved Away

Wilson’s original goes:

“Well I ain’t never been the Barbie doll type
No I can’t swig that sweet champagne
I’d rather drink beer all night
In a tavern or in a honky-tonk
or on a 4-wheel-drive tailgate. . . . Let me get a big ‘Hell Yeah!’ from the redneck girls like me.”

The Eagle‘s version:

“Well I ain’t never been the party-girl type
I’d rather drink some homemade root beer
At a fireside Sunday night
Down at the ward house, or at a friend’s house
While tying up a quilt
I like green Jell-O and casseroles
And I wash ’em down with milk. . . . Let me hear a big ‘Heck Yeah!’ from the Relief Society.”

The spoof was written by Robert Lund, a Utah song-parody veteran who has penned dozens of witty tunes about the Utah Jazz, high gas prices and other topics.

I made a joke about green jello just the other day, at David’s parents. We had just shared a nice meal – not a Passover seder, but all the ingredients for individual dishes were kosher for Passover. One of the guests is an old friend of theirs whose ex-wife (formerly Jewish) converted to the dominant faith of Utah and moved there a few years back. He said she had since been struggling to fit in and reconcile her political views (Democrat, feminist, socially aware) with the local culture. That’s when I asked if she’d learned to like the taste of green Jell-o. He looked at me very oddly, so I had to explain.

It’s a cultural thing. Any weird green food or drink is “okay” and anything red might be “not okay” at mixed gatherings. I remember once at a wedding reception in Utah, there were people of the Saints persuasion and people of the, well, Sinners persuasion. All the Saints drank the green punch, which had a little “angel” placard. All the Sinners drank the red punch, which had a little “devil” placard. It was straight Hawaiian Punch with a little ginger ale, but the hordes of the ungodly drank it anyway in the faint hope that there might be some booze in it to ease the wheels of social discomfort.

This friend of David’s parents and I had a good long talk about all kinds of things, but he was interested in knowing a little more deep background about the culture his wife had chosen over her own. That it was coming from someone like me, with a pretty jaundiced view that comes from long-ago hurts and rejections, just made it easier for him to ask more questions. I went on and on, as far as I remember. Must have been something to do with all that devilish red grape juice I’d been drinking. What was it? Shiraz.

I left Utah for college in the fall of 1976 and quickly became more of the “party girl” from the original version of the song. I was never into country music but I definitely recall hanging out in honky-tonks in Eugene. And, yes, there were large quantities of beer.

But back to the conversation with Steve, the friend of the family. He mentioned that a son of theirs was visiting with his mom now, and he was getting ready to leave because he just didn’t feel comfortable there or feel like he wanted to stay long-term. So I started telling him about the Jewish community in Salt Lake – I actually have good memories of a few things about growing up there, and one of them was that people who were “not” tended to bond socially in ways that might not have happened anywhere else. So in the church I grew up in I remember our pastor having a really great relationship with the rabbi from the Salt Lake Jewish Community Center, which was just down Foothill Drive from us. The rabbi came once a year to speak, and Rev. Lobb spoke at services over at the JCC or the old synagogue downtown (I don’t remember which). I think the two men originally met at a ministerial prayer breakfast thing for clergy and religious leaders – which functioned as an ad hoc club for “nots” who enjoyed getting together to compare notes and probably commiserate not a little.

It’s funny the things you remember when you dust off all the junk in the lumber-room that is your mind. Or at least, my mind.

I was telling Steve about all the JCC stuff because although Utah can be a great place to live for the outdoorsy recreational stuff, it can be a really lonely place unless or until you find your “niche” social group – be it a ski club or a faith community or a bunch of bowling grandmothers. Once you’ve found your particular tribe there, you’re okay. At least for a while. It’s easier for adults than for kids and younger people, though.

Anyway, having been to a few too many receptions and gatherings where green Jell-o and green punch were de rigeur buffet table offerings, I was happy to give that all up. And having known a few friends and family who go the latter route (as in the song parody, not the original), I’m left wondering not how they can reconcile themselves to toeing the line of spiritual perfection… but in how the heck they can bear to eat and drink that hideous green stuff. It’s utterly vile.

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