December 2013

The Other Side of Utah’s History

At our November general meeting we were entertained and enlightened by local author and historian Eileen Hallet Stone. She is a New England transplant, but has resided in Utah for many years and her knowledge of Utah’s cultural history and folklore since pioneer days far exceeds all but the most informed local authors. She writes a popular “Living History” column for the Salt Lake Tribune and has authored several books. Her perspective goes beyond the usual viewpoint, which tends to emphasize the contributions of the Mormon faith and ignores the influence of other non-Mormon settlers, whose contributions are often forgotten and ignored.

Thus her latest book, Hidden History of Utah, sheds light on some of these forgotten influences and stories, and she related some of them to us in an entertaining way, with lots of audience participation her book is available at local bookstores. “Some stories explore early Utah immigrant pioneers and minority populations—African Americans, Chinese, Greeks, Italians, Japanese, Latinos and Jews—who maintained cultural identities, customs and traditions in a state with practices and theologies quite dissimilar from their own. Some relate journeys of those who influenced business, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture and mining. Others esteem everyday people. They dip into the lore of cowboys, freedmen, mountaineers, Pony Express riders, and outlaws. They share the experience of homesteaders, black families who live in chicken coops, mountains that move, and mines that fail. There was racism in full bloom, wartime hysteria, and heroic measures. With a little digging, Utah is a goldmine for stories.” Her presentation concluded with our traditional interaction with the audience, including an abundance of questions and comments.

—Art King

President’s Report

This coming Thursday the 12th of December is the day for our annual membership meeting and winter social. As we have done in the past, board members will bring side dishes and the chapter will provide whatever else is needed. I will as I always have, make my sister’s recipe for funeral potatoes. We will have an open microphone for anyone who might have something to say. So please come and enjoy the food and company. And please bring a friend.

During this time of the year I try not to get into discussions with religious friends and relatives about Christmas or religion. Yet sometimes it is forced on me and probably many of you freethinkers, when someone asks questions like,” If you don’t believe in Christ, why do you celebrate?” Well, I try to answer in a good natured sort of way, (smart assed, but good natured). I let them know that I refuse to let the Christians have all the gluttonous materialistic fun. Sometimes I add that I didn’t turn their religious holiday into a commercialistic frenzy of buy, buy, buy.

I haven’t had this happen to me for a while, but I observed it on a blog where the religious where crying about the so called War on Christmas. They accuse just about everybody, but especially atheists and secular humanists with their “agendas.” Yet, one has to ask, how such a relative small minority can destroy Christmas; especially when many of my fellow freethinkers would mostly like to not be bothered with Christmas. For me I’ll be going to family gatherings and the like and putting back on a couple of pounds I recently lost.

A number of years ago I decided that rather than buying and giving friends and relatives’ candles and other small gifts I would bake cookies and give everyone a plate. It is somewhat of a chore, but a satisfying one. In a selfish way it eliminates all that shopping. But it is also satisfying to see how well received these cookies have become over the years, even if they did come from the kitchen of a heretic like me. This year most of my family will be in town, so I’m baking more cookies this year. By the time I’m done I will have baked over two thousand cookies. Crazy huh.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU