When I was thirteen, I spent a month living with my non-member aunt in Ottawa. I showed up at the local Mormon meetinghouse alone on a Sunday morning, dressed in my finery, ready for church.
Young Womens’ that day was taught by a newly-wed with curly-blonde hair and an earnest manner. The lesson for the day was about temple ceremonies. She kept talking about an “endowment ceremony” and “garments”. I was confused, so I raised my hand.
“What do you mean by endowment ceremonies and garments?” I asked.
“The endowment ceremony is when you make covenants with God in the temple.” she said. “When you make these covenants, you agree to wear garments as a sign of your promises to God.”
I sat there, absorbing the information. Then a lightbulb went off in my head. I raised my hand again. “I know what garments are!” I said, excited by this new knowledge. “I see them hanging on the clothesline at home all the time!” The teacher smiled at me. The class had been rowdy, with a lot of restless girls; I think she was happy to see that her lesson had hit home with someone.
After church, the teacher offered me a ride home. We walked out to her rusted station wagon, where she introduced me to her husband, a thin man with brown hair. He asked me how the lesson was.
“I learned about the endowment ceremony today.” I was embarrassed by the fact that I had never heard of endowments and garments, in spite of a lifetime of membership. “I had never heard about them before; I guess I have a lot of learning to do.” I felt very insecure about my status as a Mormon; how could I have not heard of garments and endowment ceremonies before?
“Oh, I am still learning about the endowment ceremonies.” he said, with a wry smile. His smile held an unusual note, a touch of dissonance that was uncommon to the usual Mormon dialogue.
Years later, when I discovered what happens during the endowment ceremonies, I would remember that smile and wonder.