We were poor when I was growing up. So poor that we depended on free lunches at school, WIC food vouchers from the government, and occasional trips to the Church welfare office to eat.
But our daily struggle to survive didn’t keep my mom from stockpiling food in preparation for the end of the world, which we, like most Mormons, believed would occur around the year 2000 – give or take a few years.
“A bushel of wheat will be worth a barrel of gold when the Second Coming nears,” she would say as she stocked up on freeze-dried space food she purchased from a survival store in our small Northern Utah town.
Our cellar shelves were packed with tins of Spam, cans of tomato paste, and bags of pasta and rice. They also held hundreds of home-bottled jars of fruits and vegetables. Lining the walls were three giant aluminum trash cans — like the one Oscar the Grouch lived in on Sesame Street — which housed our bags of whole wheat and powdered milk. We collected dozens of plastic milk containers and filled them with tap water to ensure we had plenty to drink. And to keep our food supply going, Mom dug up our entire half-acre back yard and turned it into a garden.
We spent endless summer days weeding, watering and harvesting vegetables. Any free time was devoted to peeling, slicing, and bottling peaches, apricots, carrots, beets, beans and anything else we could get our hands on.
To keep us motivated, Mom talked about the last days. She said our Mormon-dominated valley would be covered in tents because the gentiles (non-believers) would descend on us for food. We would feed them, of course. But we also needed to save enough for our 1,500 mile trek to Jackson County, Missouri. That’s where we believed the Garden of Eden once stood and where the Second Coming would occur. Mom said we had to walk because the cost of oil would be through the roof — if oil was available at all — making fuel impossible to acquire.
By the time I was eight, I was so obsessed with the end of the world that I lay in bed at night calculating how much time I had left. If the world ended in the year 2000, I had only until age 33. My gut ached at the unfairness of it all. I didn’t worry about food. We had that covered. I worried about getting cheated out of my time on earth. I suffered full-on panic attacks trying to think through how I would possibly have enough time to enjoy life (sin), and still have adequate time left over to repent and be saved when we finally made it to Jackson County.
I left the Mormon Church soon after leaving home and refused to have anything to do with the religion — including preparedness. Planting a garden, however small, was out of the question. Just the thought of stepping foot inside of a Costco made me want to throw up. I got into the habit of shopping daily for the food I needed that evening and the following morning.
My husband and I have always focused on embracing the moment with our two young daughters rather than dwelling on what awaits us. But given the recent Arab uprisings, the ongoing economic crisis, and the devastating tsunamis, earthquakes, tornados and floods wreaking havoc across the globe, I’m starting to rethink our position.
What if the Mormons are right? What if the world really is headed for collapse?
We do have what my mom has sent us in the surprise UPS packages that occasionally show up at our door – tin foil space blankets, hand crank flashlights, a five-pound bag of hot chocolate mix and a ten-pound bag of instant potatoes. But at the moment, we don’t have enough water stored to make the hot chocolate or instant mashed potatoes – let alone keep us from dying of dehydration.
A friend and I are discussing a wine and preparation evening that involves stuffing personal backpacks with a three-day food supply and some cash. I’m even considering a Costco run. But if things get really bad, I’m grateful to have a Mormon mom who loves me despite our opposing views on religion.
I’m certain my mom didn’t have me in mind when she talked about gentiles descending on our valley. But if I can find a way to get my family and friends from Seattle, where I now live, to her house in Northern Utah, I know she’ll welcome us with open arms.
I also know there will be a whole cellar stuffed with food and water waiting for us.