So, I’m starting on two more posts for this series: a post on how Paul gets along with my family and a post on how I get along with his. We’ll do my family first.
The Jeffries-Godley Family
Didn’t my mother have the best maiden name ever? Anyways, my mother’s family is mostly from Arkansas while my father’s family hails from the northwestern United States and Great Britain, so my relatives are an eclectic mix of hicks, Brits and northwesterners. Lots of working-class types and military, religiously most of my family is probably best classified as bad Protestant. I was born in Arkansas myself, but moved to Alaska as an infant and split my childhood between there and Washington state.
There has been a little bit of everything in my extended family: drug problems, drinking problems, relatives in-and-out of jail, etc. As far as education goes, I can probably count the number of people who have bachelor’s degrees on one hand. One of my British uncles is gay and has had the same partner since I was a small child; I’ve always considered his partner my uncle. I have an aunt and uncle in Washington, D.C. who are both colonels in the Air Force, and that aunt was in the Pentagon when it was hit on 9-11, but she escaped safely. Since my father was one of four children and my mother one of five, I have countless aunts, uncles, ex-aunts, ex-uncles, cousins, and so on. While all of my grandparents are dead, I still have a number of great-aunts and great-uncles.
My own father was a high school drop-out who flew C-130s and C-141s for the Air Force and is now serving as a corrections officer. My mother was a homemaker in her younger years and worked as a caregiver for the elderly for years before she passed away last year from pancreatic cancer. I have an older half-brother, two younger brothers (one of whom is autistic) and a younger sister.
Since moving to Washington when I was 10, I’ve been close to the family of my aunt and uncle, Joni and Richard. They have three children, two sons and a daughter, who have been more like siblings to me than cousins, and they’ve always been the most evangelical of my extended family. My aunt and uncle have been going to Sumner Presbyterian since I found the church when I was a sophomore in high school and they’ve been quite active in the local leadership there in the past. Joni has served as an elder and Rick as a deacon, while my cousin Dolores spent some time as the assistant youth director. My cousin Brandon is married and has one son who was born last December.
As far as what my family is like, we’re loud, we’re nosey, and our humor is edgy. We like our practical jokes and our running gags and we bitterly cling to our guns a bit more than we do our religion. We poke fun at each other on the surface a lot, but under it all we’re fiercely devoted to each other and can be quite pushy and aggressive when we feel like members of our clan are being mistreated. We usually throw big family get-togethers for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and most of our relatives from the Northwest come out to see us. Sometimes my relatives from Arkansas, Washington D.C. or Britain will visit as well. If you hear me saying “y’all” or resorting to British swear words, now you know why. My relatives rub off on me.
My maternal grandmother was still alive and came from Arkansas to Washington to visit me when I graduated from high school in June 2000. Unbeknownst to me, she spiked the punch at my high school graduation party.
“Grandma, I had Mormons at the party, they’re not supposed to drink alcohol,” I told her when I found out. This bothered me more than giving alcohol to a bunch of 16-19 year-olds.
“Oh, they liked it,” she snorted.
Paul & My Family
Paul is the only Mormon in my family and nobody really cares about his religion. I’ve long maintained that most Protestants, even evangelical Protestants, fall into the “don’t-know-don’t-care” category on Mormons, and my family is an example of this. Occasionally my uncle makes a dumb joke about finding golden books under rocks, and they all have a few war stories about annoying Mormons who wanted to convert them and would not leave them alone, but for the most part, nobody bothers Paul about his religion or brings it up at family gatherings. I’m pretty sure no one has ever asked him about his “magic underwear,” which is impressive because usually non-members are really curious about that.
There’s usually alcohol at the family gatherings although people seldom get drunk, and there’s always plenty of sparkling juices for those of us who do not drink. My relatives often offer alcohol to me and Paul, forgetting that neither of us drink it. Plenty of people in my family drink coffee as well. No one really frets about modesty in dress, although apart from assorted tank tops, we don’t dress very different from the cultural LDS standards for “modesty” either. Ironically, Paul comes from a very small family, so part of his discomfort at our family gatherings comes from not being used to having so many relatives. Growing up in Iowa, he’s quite used to having non-LDS people in his life who drink coffee and alcohol and wear tank tops.
My mother adored Paul like a son, she never judged him for being Mormon or cared that I was marrying a Mormon. Once I started dating him in Utah, she often sent him treats, stuffed animals and care packages in the mail just as she did for me. My aunt Joni also loved Paul when she first met him, pulling me aside and telling me, “I think he’s a really good match for you.” My father and Paul do not get along, but that’s not a surprise; my dad’s a hard man to get along with.
Finally, Paul gets along pretty well with my siblings. Both of my brothers love him since they all have a fondness for video games. My sister does not talk to him a lot, but she doesn’t hate him or anything, and we don’t see my older brother a lot due to legal problems I won’t go into.
That is what my family is like. I often tell people that I’m an anomaly for my family, and it’s true. While we have lots of people from Protestant traditions, only my aunt’s family and some of my relatives from my mother’s side of the family are really evangelical. I’ve never been into drinking alcohol or coffee or tea, I’ve certainly never tried drugs or smoked,* and Paul and I both saved sex for marriage. Physically I’m 6’0″ tall, just barely taller than my father, taller than two of my three brothers, and much taller than all of the women in my family, though most of my uncles and male cousins have me beat. No one else in my family (except maybe my British uncle’s partner) is terribly interested in scholarship or academia or linguistics, and certainly nobody wants to discuss the fine differences between grace and works in LDS and evangelical soteriologies with me.
It doesn’t matter how black the sheep is though, it’s still family, and I love mine.
* In Alaska they build hills in residential communities to use for sledding in the winter time, but during the spring and summer they’re just giant mounds covered in grass. It was spring or summer and a teenage babysitter had taken me to the hill when I was young, between the ages of 2 and 4; this is one of my earliest memories. She was smoking a cigarette and I asked what it was and if I could try it, and she let me. I inhaled the smoke wrong and coughed horribly all the way home while she told me not to tell my father or I would get in trouble (ha-ha). See how much fun it is growing up in a semi-redneck family? In any case, that’s the only time I’ve ever tried to smoke.