40 years ago
40 years ago I was a little girl living in California's Central Valley. It was a good time to live there. There population hadn't yet exploded, crime wasn't too bad, the traffic nightmare hadn't really happened yet. I was a kid and we lived out in the country among almond and peach orchards. Nothing takes me back to that time and place more than the smell of a really ripe peach.
My best friend at the time was a girl my age named Alisa. Even at 8 years old, we were both smart and funny, interested in what was happening in the news and the world. Her family lived on a farm (a working vineyard) and most summer days you could find us either playing outside at her house, or swimming in the pool at my house. But what I loved best was being at her house and spending time near her mother.
I'm sure her mom had difficult days. At the time I knew the family they had 7 children. But as a frequent guest in their home, I never felt stress or anxiety. Her mother nurtured all the small people in their house with patience and gentleness. I soaked every bit of it up.
Their family were Mormons and they were really the only members of the church that I ever knew up close. One of my best memories is playing on their swing-set in the backyard while Alisa told me stories from the Book of Mormon.
Eventually my family moved away. My dad had died and a rural lifestyle was just not possible to upkeep anymore and I lost touch with Alisa and her family. In the ensuing 40 years I didn't ever become close to any LDS folks again - not on purpose, it just didn't happen. Until last year.
Last year I started spending time with some people who were members of the church. I know this sounds crazy, but I recognized the same spirit instantly, long before I ever talked about anything religious with them.
I wish that things had gone differently for me. I wish I could have remained in contact with their family. I wish I would have made a faith transition much earlier. 40 years is a long time. And yet, I am so grateful that I had this early beacon on my life. For me it meant that when the same opportunity was presented decades later, I could recognize it.
Alisa's parents are still alive. Her too. I've been in touch with them and they were as kind as could be about my conversion. Though it might be impossible for them to ever understand the impact they had on me.