The title of this post reflects the small town I moved from and the small town I moved to. They both were located in the valley.
With the exception of starting my life in Huntington Beach, CA, and one year in Carson City, NV, by three years of age, my parents decided they didn’t want their daughter growing up in the city.
“We moved out of the city because we were worried that you might join a gang,” my father used to say.
I used to roll my eyes at the thought. I still do.
Through their parental lens, they were sheltering me from the dangers of city living and as a result, I have lived in nothing but rural towns since then.
What is it like moving to a town far from the people you know?
I was 11 years old when I moved from West Valley, New York to Delta, Utah.
Delta was one of the larger towns in Millard County making it the hub for the public school system. Delda, as the locals call it, had everything from grocery stores, banks, restaurants, and one clothing department store.
I lived in one of those smaller towns. Hinckley is located 5 miles east of Delta. There were no traffic lights. During the holidays, the town’s Christmas tree was set up in the middle of the only four-way stop sign on Main. We had a gas station, an LDS Church, post office, a park, and the remains of the Hinckley Academy.
Here’s an excerpt from my memoir Belonging:
My father knows that moving to the West Coast will bring my mother back. She prefers the drier weather. He speaks to an old family friend we knew from Hawthorne. Dena and Greg have moved to a small town in Utah. My father tells me that if he doesn’t like it after a few months, we will move, but for the time being, Delta is our destination. At the end of the school year, my father packs up what little we have left into his 1975 Ford truck. We head West.
The move from West Valley, New York is not the most challenging part––the people in Utah are different. It’s hot outside, but people in town aren’t wearing tank tops or short shorts. Women and girls are wearing short-sleeved shirts and shorts that go below the knee.
Bart, Greg’s son, says I can’t say, “Oh my God” anymore.
“Why?” I ask.
His little sister pipes in and says, “Because you can’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”
“What does that mean?”
“Because it’s like cussing. You can say, ‘Gosh’ or ‘Goodness’ instead,” says Bart.
I don’t want to be a cusser and adopt these new words into my speech.
Dena asks if I want to come to church with them on Sunday. It’s not what I want to do, but it’s better than sitting in their house by myself. I no longer own any dresses. My mother had stopped making my dresses after the fourth grade because I wanted to wear jeans like the rest of the girls in my class. She says that since I don’t own any appropriate church clothes, Dena takes me to a thrift shop and buys me a denim skirt and a short-sleeved salmon button-up top with a collar. The fabric is heavily starched, and the sleeves dwarf my skinny arms. Dena says that it will work. I don’t like it, but I’m not going to complain. That would be rude.
We arrive at the church with fifteen minutes to spare, but it appears that people have come earlier. We walk through the foyer and are immediately greeted by church members who provide us with a program. We pass through a set of double doors and enter the back of the chapel and follow other members beyond accordion-style partitions that reveal the overflow where there are rows of metal folding chairs. The dusty rose cushioned pews in the chapel are all taken. Flowery perfumes mixed with fruity lotions evoke a feeling of walking through a department store as people pass me in the aisles to get to their seats.
A woman sitting behind us leans over and gently touches Dena’s shoulder. She says, “Hello, Sister Hawkins. How are you doing?” I have never heard her addressed in this manner.
Greg turns around and nods hello, and Dena says, “I’m doing great, Sister Anderson.” Someone at the podium begins to speak, and the woman leans back in her chair. She eyes me with curiosity, adding a warm smile before turning her attention to the man in the stand who goes over the program.
Dena hands me a hard-backed forest green hymn book opened to the song. I push up my big plastic-framed glasses and sing a high note when I should go low. I continue to follow the words but my voice catches and enters into an accidental falsetto far from the tune everyone else is singing. My throat goes dry, so I mouth the words instead. The boys are dressed in slacks or khaki pants and wear long or short-sleeved white button-ups with a tie; they look like miniature versions of their fathers. Another hymn is played, and two teenage boys between the ages of 16-18 sit behind the sacrament table where they silently break the bread and divide it among several trays, covering the trays with white linen cloth when they finish.
Younger boys ages 12-15 wait for their queue to stand up and distribute the trays of bread to the congregation. After they pass their tray between the rows, they wait for the tray to return into their possession. Their hands are respectfully held together in front of them. Dena tells me before the service starts that I cannot have the bread or water because I am not a member. I pass the tray to the person next to me. They follow the same routine with the water. Families fill entire rows. Older couples and widows sit together. Girls my age wear cap-sleeved dresses in floral prints with ruffles and wear pantyhose with their kitten heels. I notice their light brown or blonde hair is either braided or curled with their bangs perfectly teased and sprayed into place.
I touch my hair, and my cheeks grow warm. The dry air makes my hair frizzy and unmanageable. My headband has somewhat contained my wild uneven hair and my bangs swoop down in an awkward chunk of a wave, leaving my forehead exposed slightly, accentuating my acne-covered skin. Before we moved from West Valley, I had cut my hair with a pair of household scissors. My hair that once sat in the middle of my back is now just above my shoulders. I tug at my skirt, hating the way it bunches up when I sit down. I look down at my white canvas shoes that aren’t so white. There is no one in the chapel a shade darker than cream.
The church service is hard to follow. They use words that are unfamiliar. The man standing at the pulpit is saying something about the power of the Priesthood and blessings. I stop listening to him and watch the families. Each family sits together, with at least three children by their side. Most of the fathers wear a three-piece suit. Mothers glare or hush their children to sit still and be quiet. They end the meeting with the hymn Families Can be Together Forever. A woman from the congregation comes to the pulpit to pray. She mixes modern words with thees and thous and blesses those that couldn’t make it this Sunday will be able to come next time. She closes with, “We pray that thou might bless us with a good rest of the Sabbath.” I look around and realize that I’m the only one that hasn’t bowed my head, crossed my arms, and closed my eyes. I say my own silent prayer that I will remember not to have the urge to accept the invitation to come back here again.
I am here in the middle of nowhere, thousands of miles from my friends and a mother across the Pacific. The closest city is an hour and a half away. A typical one-liner in any small town is that if you blink, you’ll miss it. Heading North on Highway 6 at the end of Main Street takes you right past the cheese plant and restaurant to Provo and on through to Salt Lake City. Going straight on Highway 50 East takes you South to St. George, and if you continue to follow the road West, you will end up in Las Vegas, Nevada.
My father takes a liking to the area. “It’s a great place to raise kids.” He says this to people he meets around town.
“I like that they care about family so much.” He says to me. Over the years, I have learned to nod in agreement. He’s not asking for my opinion. Besides, I don’t have much to say about raising families. I feel like I’m barely in one. He decides that this is where we will live. He finds a job with an electrician. Three days later, he rents out a three-bedroom ranch-style home five miles West of Delta. We now live in the town of Hinckley, even more, remote than Delta. If you continue to follow Highway 50 West, it will take you over the state border to Nevada. Hinckley’s population is just under 700. There is a gas station, a church, and a post office. If you want to buy groceries, you’ll have to head into Delta.
# # #
Those who live in the towns surrounding Delta attend school there. I begin my seventh-grade year at Delta Middle School. The locals call it Delda. My English teacher Mrs. Tuttle asks me to introduce myself. I stand up next to my desk. I don’t know what to do with my hands, so I hold them behind my back. My heart is pounding in my chest, “I’m Desiree Bania. I moved here from West Valley, New York, and I live in H-Hinckley, Utah.” Mrs. Tuttle gives me a cursory nod and smiles. I sit down feeling foolish. I could have said other things, but my mind draws a blank. Of course, I live in Utah. Why did I say that? I feel the blood rush to my cheeks, and my ears redden. My armpits grow damp. I want to melt into my seat. I hate it here. I go home and cry for hours. In my darkened room, my father asks what’s wrong. I tell him I don’t want to go back.
He tells me that isn’t possible.
First of all, thanks for reading my work. This concludes the excerpt from my memoir, Belonging. Stayed tuned for more. Thanks for stopping by!