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 didnt keep my mom from stockpiling food in preparation for the end of the world, which we –like most of the other Mormon families we knew — believed was to 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, my mom would say as she stocked up on five-gallon containers of 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 plastic milk containers, filled them with tap water, and lugged them down our splintered wooden steps to ensure we had plenty of water to get us by. 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. When we werent doing that, it felt like every free moment was devoted to peeling, slicing, and bottling peaches, apricots, beans, carrots, beets 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. Thats 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, which was the year my mom always referenced, I had only until age thirty-three. My gut ached at the unfairness of it all. I didnt 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 religion soon after leaving home and refused to have anything to do with the Church — 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 for that evening and the following morning.
I spent so much time stressing over the future as a child that once I reached adulthood, I had enough and vowed to focus on the present. But given the recent uprisings in the Arab world, the ongoing economic crisis, and the devastating tsunamis, earthquakes and tornados wreaking havoc across the globe, Im starting to rethink my position.
What if my mom is right? What if the world really is headed for one big, catastrophic collapse? Even the Mayan calendar ends in 2012. Shouldnt my husband and I be a little prepared?
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 dont 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 have talked about the need for a wine and preparation evening that involves stuffing personal backpacks with an emergency kit, a three-day food supply and a little cash. Im even working up the resolve to give Costco a try. But if things get really bad, Im grateful to have a Mormon mom who loves me despite our opposing views on religion.
Im certain my mom didnt 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 shell welcome us with open arms.
I also know there will be a whole cellar stuffed with food and water waiting for us.