The Guys at Mad Mac’s Repair Bay May Be Reading Your Mail (Or Is That My Mail?)
by Marvin Payne

First I want to tell you that I am delighted nearly to distraction by your comments, suggestions, and encouragements. I will include a number of them here in this month’s column. The number is zero. This is because they’re all on my main computer which this afternoon was admitted to the hospital for computers, and right now your letters are being read by the guys in the repair bay at Mad Mac’s. Not by me. More’s the pity. Sorry.

So instead, I’m going to impose upon you a technique that is fresh on my mind because of what happened at a rehearsal tonight for the fast-approaching run of the one-man show “J. Golden.” I’m playing him at age eighty, and I’m having difficulty capturing the feeling of debility that was characteristic of people of that age in the nineteen-thirties. (Eighty was pretty old in the nineteen-thirties. That’s what my director told me. And I understand. I mean, people who were eighty in the nineteen-thirties were born in the eighteen-fifties. That would make anybody pretty old.) The playwright, James Arrington, is also my director, and having played about a zillion characters in his career (twenty-six of them in just one show!) he has suggested that to get this physicality right I should do some modeling. Not of fancy clothes. Modeling in this sense involves observing some old folks and borrowing various gestures, postures, and movements and combining them in a way that would feel right for J. Golden Kimball, compared with contemporary observations of the actual guy, and the five or six seconds of film footage of him that we actually have in hand.

This will require some earnest looking around, because the two aged folks that are most prominent in my mind are my dad, who died a year ago at age ninety-five, and my wife’s grandpa, who is still very much alive at about that same age. But these are both wiry short guys who somehow avoided the basic battle of the aged, which is the War with Gravity. J. Golden, however, was roughly the height of your average quaking aspen and about as big around as one of its topmost willowy branches. So, the need for some careful observation and some serious modeling.

But wait! Is this not a column about the keeping of journals? Yes, it is. So let’s do some journal-writing modeling with what some forebears of mine have written. (Will my descendants be called ” aftbears”?) (Stop! Hold the presses for a cool discovery! In the course of sifting through the journal of my great-great-grandfather, pioneer John Brown, looking for good stuff to use in this “modeling” exercise, I hit this little entry just now:

25 May 1886

About this time the Bishop called on me to act in the office of teacher and preside over the block in which I resided, to hold meetings and preach the reformation of the people. This was the beginning of what was called the Reformation. I received the appointment gleefully, for I felt that I was asleep and knew that if I would take hold and act in that office it would have a tendency to wake me up. My wives and I were rebaptized.”

To illustrate why I find this particularly cool, here’s my entry of 17 March 2001: This morning Presidents Brown and Allred called me to serve as elders quorum president. It felt good… Laurie [my wife–I didn’t write “my wife” in my journal because she had previously been identified as such], suggested this may be just the kick in the pants we need, and of course she’s right.”

Same feeling John Brown had!

While we’re side-railed in this “cool discovery” moment, let me reiterate a point I first iterated in last month’s Backstage Graffiti. (In the column before that, you may recall, the point was preiterated.) I’ll use an entry from my own journal:

4 July 1999 “If I am ever asked to assume some leadership role in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, I imagine I will first review every note I’ve made of how Terry does it.”

This would be Terry Brown, aforementioned stake president of mine. And how might I be able to conduct aforementioned review? JOURNAL INDEX! The man has been my stake president for about two years, and there are thirteen glowing entries in that time that will teach me how to do this elders job every bit as well, maybe better, than will the Handbook of General Instructions. I just look in the journal index under Brown, Terry & Nancy.) This brings us to the end of the parenthesis that began about a quarter of a column ago, just to save you having to look for the beginning of it. Now, forward.

They tell us to include our feelings in our journals, and to write in colorful detail. To model, we return to John Brown. This is a letter to his daughter, included in his journal. As a polygamist with three wives, he was hiding out from the law. In those days, it was called a letter “from exile.”

Hanging Rock, American Fork Canyon, June 22, 1886

I embrace this opportunity of writing you a few lines that my whereabouts may be known. I have taken up my abode on this rock by permission of the proprietor of the Canyon and the owner of the Wasatch Mountains. It is somewhat retired and yet very public. I have magnificent scenery all around me–gigantic mountains with waterfalls, precipices, etc., beautified with a great variety of evergreens and other shrubbery, with a great variety of vegetable life.

This is a splendid place to view the works of nature and meditate upon the wonders of Creation. I hear no human voice, but have the music of the mountain breeze as it comes down the Canyon in the evening and returns in the morning. I hear the chirping of birds, but the greatest sound is made by the rushing of the waters down the gorges, leaping over the falls, dashing against the rocks into the main creek, thence foaming and rushing down the Canyon in its meandering course to Utah Lake, that beautiful sheet of water in the center of our splendid valley.

It is very cold of nights sitting on this lone rock, with all my clothing drawn on including my duster. But in the afternoon, the sun drives all the cold out, and more, too, and I feel like I was in a furnace.

I have no one to talk to. All I say is my prayers and good morning to the teamsters as they come up in the morning and good evening as they pass down the Canyon at the close of day with their loads of wood and lumber, jolting over the rocks. I gaze after them as long as I can see them and wish, like them, I too could drive a load of lumber home. They soon pass behind the rocks below. I have no lamp, do all my writing by daylight, and the evenings, though short, appear to be very long.

Although I occupy a position on this rock conspicuously hanging over the road, no one can see me except those who strictly keep the Word of Wisdom, say their prayers and go to meeting. A kind of enchantment has come over me, and I am quite a different person.

Night is coming on, and I will have to close. A messenger has just brought my supper, but he has forgotten the buttermilk. I will have to instruct him.

“Good night, Lonely”

That’s a good model, I think. His writing always has a “ping” of truth to it. Well, maybe except for the time as a pioneer scout when he was exploring the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, a couple of days before Brigham Young first arrived, and wrote, “There are hosts of black crickets all over the valley and apparently harmless.” Hah!

Still, plenty of detail, and something of his impressions and feelings. Another thing I like is that he generally writes with a sense of his audience, who are people he respects, trusts, and loves. (“Audience” would be a good topic for one of these columns, I’m suddenly thinking. Remind me, if I don’t get to it.)

Well, while we’re modeling, I think it might be instructive to consider the journal account of another of my ancestors, my great-grandfather Edward Payne. He was the first of the Paynes (my Paynes, anyway) to join the Church (my church, anyway). This he did in England, reportedly having been introduced to the doctrines of the Restoration by a drunken excommunicated Mormon with whom he was stuck as roommate for one night at a cheap boarding house in London. It’s a very colorful story, involving a miraculous meeting in a grove and a beautiful young girl, and a dark intrigue to escape his employers and sail to America, losing a son on the pioneer trail. Here it is in his own words:

(Hold on a second, I thought I put it right here on the shelf with my other written treasures. Is it behind I Walked To Zion or over by Stegner’s book on the Mormon Trail? Golly, I just can’t seem to… Oh! I remember! HE DIDN’T WRITE A SINGLE SYLLABLE!)

Well then, let’s jump to Edward’s son’s (my grandfather’s) take on “The Exile” and compare it to John Brown’s. Let’s see, something about joining his polygamous brother’s family in Mexico, something about Pancho Villa riding through town with his army, then something about a midnight train and all the saints leaving Mexico in box cars, oh, then that part about him riding back to dig up the rifles they’d buried and shooting it out with the Mexicans who were in hot pursuit. Well, let’s go to Grandpa Payne’s own account: (What? No account? Do you mean he…? Yup, DIDN’T WRITE A SINGLE SYLLABLE!)

Hmm, doesn’t help a lot with our modeling, I guess. Except maybe to reiterate the lesson the Savior first iterated to the Nephites when He asked to see their record of the words he gave them through the mouth of his prophet Samuel the Lamanite, and they (you guessed it) HADN’T WRITTEN A SINGLE SYLLABLE!

Well, at the risk of waxing exhortational, please write a lot of syllables, making sure that some of them embody details and feelings. There really are people, many of them still waiting for their turn on earth, who will want to read them. Even treasure them. I promise.

Again, I’ve appreciated your responses and help. Now, in that spirit, if any of you are really really old and valiantly engaged in the War with Gravity, please send me a video (in care of Meridian Magazine) of you walking, sitting, rising, and standing at a pulpit. Better yet, walking, sitting, rising, standing at a pulpit, and swearing.


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.