Monday, March 13, 2006

My Latter-Days

Mormons are all the rage these days, thanks to "Big Love," the new HBO series about polygamists. But I don't need Chloe Sevigny and Bill Paxton to show me Mormon. I KNOW Mormon. And I must confess, this talk about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is making me a bit nostalgic for the days of yore, the halcyon days when Mormans ruled the earth. Or, at the very least, ruled over my bathtime.

You see, many years ago, years before I was a disgruntled 20-something with a cirrhosing liver and a miniature apartment owned by the Chinese mafia (and quite possibly constructed out of medium grade cardboard), I was a young lass attending Prestigious Private School, a lovely institution where blond children with an average of 8 names apiece based their entire conceptualization of the physical universe on which of two local country clubs one frequented. The parents of Prestigious Private School students were very, very busy; as committed participants in a groundbreaking anthropological experiment, they had selflessly and wholeheartedly devoted their existences to the faithful, page-by-page reenactment of a Ralph Lauren catalog. Consequently, there were horses to ride, luncheons to attend, Lyford Cay and Jupiter Island trips to plan, trust funds to feed upon, 9-irons to pull from the club bag, squash matches to play, Tod's to sport and affected, lockjaw parlances to cultivate. Furthermore, since said experiment was generously constructed to provide plenty of room for personal interpretation and creativity, there were also backs to stab, affairs with the tennis pro to discover, children to kick out of boarding school, single-malt whiskeys to abuse and plastic surgeries to undergo. Now, as you can probably imagine, this demanding roster of activities required significant amounts of time and energy. Thus, any duties that weren't directly linked to the Cause simply had to be relegated to other parties. And one such "other party," responsible for the inconsequential and rather bothersome task of raising the children, was the nanny. The noble nanny!

Nannies came in all shapes and sizes at Prestigious Private School. The Janssens, with their Scandinavian roots, preferred statuesque, Nordic 20-year-olds with polite, British-inflected English and names like Bjorn or Birgitta. The McNeil's, on the other hand, passed the reins to Alice, the ancient, grandmotherly type who had also raised Mrs. McNeil (and had, in all likelihood, raised Mrs. McNeil's mother, too). Now, to be sure, my parents were substantially more hands-on than those I've just mentioned, and generally eschewed the tweed-and-tonic-saturated lifestyle favored by the PPS community. However, they certainly didn't want to be left out of the loop when it came to nannies. And left out they were not!

They kicked off the Nanny Spree with a wave of personable Jamaicans, followed by Carmel and Deirdre and Sinead, our seemingly inexhaustible supply of Irish farmgirls. By the time I was six, we'd already been through (traumatized?) enough nannies to populate a small, 3-2-1 Contact-fluent Nanny Nation. At that point, my parents knew that it was time to change tactics, or at least to change cultural backgrounds. But what, exactly, did they want? Who was the Michelangelo's David of the au pair world, the idealized representation and distilled essence of all that was Nanny? A solution was necessary, and one day, that solution arrived in all her glory, a Mary Poppins who sailed into our lives on her umbrella of fundamentalist dogma. It was time for something new. It was time for a Mormon.

Tanny was about 19, and she came from Idaho. Her name was actually Tammy, but according to legend, her numerous siblings could not pronounce the "m" sound properly when it was first introduced into their collective vocabulary. Despite the fact that they had all long since outgrown this innocent butchering of the English language, Tanny was forced to forever bear the burden of their childhood speech impediments alone. Whatever the case, every good Mormon has a mission, and Tanny's mission was to instill her wholesome values in our half-Jewish, half-Protestant, wholly heathen minds. She rocked a modified version of the she-mullet, and she teased it proudly whenever she went to play pillow polo at the local Mormon church. Tanny was also a talented pianist, and she taught me how to hammer out the right-hand parts while she played the more complicated chords with her left hand. One of her favorite numbers was Perry Como's "Tonight I Celebrate My Love For You." Actually, Roberta Flack also recorded this sweeping, melodious ballad, so I'm not sure which rendition Tanny and I were perfoming. What I do know is that we sang our hearts out, loudly crooning the verses:

"Tonight, I celebrate my love for you! It seems the natural thing to do, tonight no one's gonna find us, we'll leave the world behind us..."

It occurs to me now, in my fully-formed adult state, that the lyrics of that song were perhaps entirely inappropriate for a six-year-old, and by extension, for a devout Mormon. But none of that mattered at the time; the world was our oyster, and Perry Como was our cocktail sauce. I will never forget the sight of Tanny's Reeboks skillfully working the piano pedals as the aroma of Aquanet slowly permeated the entire living room. I will never forget her stories about potatoes, and farm life, and God's distinct preference for those who adhered to the tenets of her particular sect. Ah, my innocent and carefree youth! It couldn't last forever. And it didn't.

They say that all good things must end, and the end of Tanny was unceremonious and sudden. You see, she made the fatal error of saying the four words that a grown-up must never say to a child whose confidence she desires. And what are these words? Don't. Tell. Your. Parents. It came during one of her routine brainwashings, after she had once again convinced me that God loved her more than he loved me, and that he always would so long as I was not one of her People. She'd made other comments to that effect before, but this time, she panicked and tacked those Four Magic Words to the end of her diatribe. Bad move, Tanny. Why? Well, naturally, I went straight to my parents and told them every word of what she said. Unsurprisingly, they were not pleased to learn that their six-year-old was being actively indoctrinated with creepy religious principles by a GED-possessing 20-year-old from the Midwest. I'm not quite sure what they expected, but whatever it was, that wasn't it.

Tanny left shortly after that incident. My parents took one more crack at the Mormon thing, this time with Linda. She also played the piano and teased her bangs, but Linda was certainly no Tanny; her interpretation of Joseph Smith's teachings was decidedly more liberal, and her method of spreading the Lord's word involved bringing a cologne-saturated cop named Ken back to our house on a regular basis, drinking heavily, crashing our car, and getting knocked up by some unidentified fellow from her pillow polo group. I think Linda's harrowing stay in our otherwise happy, colonial home settled things for my parents. Never again would I feel so intimately connected to the Latter-Day Saints, whoever and wherever they are, and more importantly, never again would I have another nanny. It was out with the old, and in with the Disaffected, Ninth-Grade Babysitters from School. But that, my friends, is a different story entirely...


Post a Comment

<< Home