As a Catholic, the most difficult thing for me growing up with Mormons for neighbors wasn’t the religious separation, but was spelling, “Mormon” correctly when sending them a greeting card. It tended to depreciate the level of care we genuinely maintained for our neighbors. “Congratulations to you and yours. You’ve been such a friendly and loving group of Mormans.” If they could have only responded to our family as being a bunch of fun, loving “Catholicks”, it would have eased some of my Catholic guilt.
Mormons come in groups, and Catholics come in bunches. I won’t try to convince you which one is better, but it’s easy to recognize, without a doubt, which one has a slight edge when it comes to having fun. The only thing separating us was Sundays. Before the age of sixteen, when drinking becomes legal in the Catholic religion, you, instead, relied on anyone who could fill your outdoor team, whether it be baseball, football, basketball, or even snowmobiling. Our neighbors would be willing to play with us on any day but Sunday. Very similar to my belief that Catholic Priests should be allowed to marry, Mormons should be allowed to play Whiffle Ball on a Sunday without having to burn their pajamas after playing. They certainly deserve it. We’d toss in an hour of church on Sunday and be playing ball within moments of leaving, with the ball kept in my jacket during mass. Those poor Mormons suffered through four hours of church and weren’t allowed to hang out with their neighbors in the backyard. Other than Sundays, and some attitudes, our neighbors were just fine with me. If they were willing to swing a bat or throw a ball, whether we needed them or not, why would I give a crap what Bible they bounced off one another.
At that time, we had a basketball hoop in front of our garage. When anyone would dribble a ball, Old Man Mormon (our friend’s father, and a really nice guy) would race out of his house and join in on the game. It was terrific. Since basketball can be a contact sport, especially playing with us, his three sons would only be spectators, but he loved to play because he was twice the size of any of us. He was also pretty good. Old Man Mormon also knew we had a wrestling background and challenged one my brothers to a match in our front yard. Old Man Mormon was twice my brother’s size, but there wasn’t an ounce of grass Old Man Mormon’s back didn’t hit that day. My brother wasn’t challenged again, but Old Man Mormon went to watch every match my brother competed in that year.
During one winter month, overlapping other seasons in Spokane, one of my older brothers acquired a snowmobile, (presumably, as a result of winning a bet) and that season couldn’t have been more fun. Much like dribbling a basketball in our driveway, when we’d fire the snowmobile up, the Mormons would come over to share in the amusement. Having an exceptionally large backyard, we didn’t need a mountain or off road tracks to keep us entertained. We tied a rope to the back of the snowmobile and sometimes the rope would to be attached to a tire. The goal wasn’t to see how long you could hang on to the tire or rope, but it was to climb the rope, reach the driver and throw him off the snowmobile and then become the driver. Those Mormons thought we were a bunch of fruitloops. Although apprehensive to participate, they would laugh and say oddball things such as, “Look at them. Those boys are like the Duke Boys!” (From Hazard County…..Dukes of Hazard Days.) I remember turning to one of my brothers after they made this comment, and I stated, “They let them watch T.V. over there? That’s pretty cool.”
Ultimately, we weren’t just Catholics, Mormons or neighbors. There was never an attempt to convert on either end. Religion didn’t define us. We were friends, and although we grew up with very dissimilar religious backgrounds, we were collectively weird in our own ways, and we accepted it. We enjoyed it. We will always remember it…….fondly.