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House of Faith House of CardsOne Man's Journey through the World of Mormonism, Magic, and Murderers
By Eric N. Davis
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Eric N. Davis
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFolk Tales and Family Trees
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers," - Malachi 4:5-6
Davy Crockett (yes that Davy Crockett) converted my parents to Mormonism. As absurd as that claim may sound, it's also a true story.
One of the most popular television series of 1955 was the five episode Walt Disney production Davy Crockett. The shows, starring Fess Parker, introduced America to a new song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," which topped the Billboard charts four weeks in March and April that year. The man, once just an average politician, and a courageous, yet unsuccessful defender of the Alamo, almost immediately vaulted into superstardom among the great heroes of American folklore. Davy Crockett became "King of the Wild Frontier." The series' popularity soared and Disney made it a fixture among its programming for several years to follow.
"You're related to him," my grandfather told his youngest son, Phil, some two years later as he watched the series on rerun. This inquisitive and impressionable eight-year-old lad was no doubt enraptured at the scenes of Davy racing keelboats down the Mississippi, catching pirates who posed as Indians, or perhaps when he fought at the Alamo. Although, he could never quite explain how the two were related, the thought stuck with young Phil into adulthood.
When you don't know where you might be hanging your hat from one year to the next, the word "home" does not make a presence in your vocabulary. Such was the case with Phil Davis. My Father grew up the child of a career Air Force officer. The family bounced around from one military installation to the next, never knowing any permanent residence. He experienced life in Indiana, England, North Carolina, Arizona, Arkansas, and California, all before graduating high school.
Religious experiences for my father were very few and far between. The children of Ezra Davis (my grandfather) were brought up with virtually no religious background, though he himself had been raised in a Methodist Episcopalian family. Ezra's wife, Rosella, did not believe in teaching children about religion. People should figure these things out for themselves when they become adults, she decided. Therefore, Phil's parents did not direct him toward any religion or sect.
In 1960, my grandfather retired from the Air Force, and moved his family to a farm in the rural Ozark Mountains of northwestern Arkansas. While living there, a neighbor boy invited Phil to attend a local worship service, so his parents sent him shuffling off with a shiny new quarter. Phil wasn't quite sure what purpose could be served by taking 25 cents to church, nor did he ever know what church he attended that day.
Upon arriving, the adults ushered Phil into a Sunday school class, with other children his age, which taught the Bible story of Noah's Ark. Following the class, the entire congregation gathered in a larger room, where the parishioners passed around a small basket in which most would deposit some quantity of currency. He then discovered the role his quarter would play.
During this congregational meeting, the Pastor stood behind a pulpit preaching hellfire and brimstone to the crowd, while a second man kneeled at a short table in front of him screaming and banging his head and fists on the table. The eleven year old boy became terrified of church and did not attend any other religious service for several years.
Following high school, my father continued to bounce around from one place to the next. Initially he enlisted in the Navy, hoping to follow in both his father's and elder brother's military footsteps. Unfortunately the Naval boot camp booted Phil early, due to a defect in his vision. He moved back to Arkansas with his parents, but soon grew tired of the emotional, and sometimes physical, abuse of his mother. Later, Phil found himself in Oklahoma, before finally returning to the place he knew best, northern California.
All the while, serious questions of life began creeping into his mind, and nagging at him. Where am I going in life? What am I doing here? Is there any purpose to all of this? What happens when I die? I think these are questions that all humans ask themselves at one time or another.
Phil's interest in religion sparked again, and he investigated a variety of different denominations. One such church met in a park in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The meeting was a Pentecostal revival of sorts, where the congregation overflowed with spiritual excitement, and many people in the crowd engaged in speaking in tongues. My father's friends pushed him up toward the front of the crowd and encouraged him to participate as well. Seeing no other way of getting out of this experience, Phil began babbling, occasionally throwing in some word he had learned in a foreign language class in high school. Apparently the preacher felt satisfied with the display, and allowed him to leave peaceably.
When another church caught Phil's interest, he decided to meet with its minister to learn more of his faith's teachings. My father explained his lack of religious background, that he knew very little of the Bible, but that he wanted to learn more.
"I am sorry to hear about your past but we don't want people here who don't already know about the Bible and the stories in it," the minister responded. "If you have never been taught these things, then we don't want you here." And with that, the lanky, troubled young man was turned away.
None of these religious meetings seemed to satisfy my father, and he left each of them with the same emptiness and unanswered questions that had been tugging at his soul. They seemed like such simple questions. Yet why was nobody able or willing to help him? Did they not even have the answers?
After my father moved back to California in 1971, he finally began to set the course for the rest of his life. He would soon meet the young lady who would forever change him. He was about to find the direction for which he constantly looked, and the answers to the pesky questions that ever seemed to elude him.
* * *
The Better Half
The early life of April Leggett contrasted markedly from that of my father. Born and raised in the high plains of western Nebraska, hers was a very quiet, mostly uneventful existence. Such was life in the rural farming community of Potter. You woke up early, did your business, and retire to bed early. The Leggett family remained in the same tiny house until my mother was nearly 12 years of age. In fact, April's first move in life came by way of necessity, rather than choice.
Following his service in the Pacific Theater of World War II, my grandfather worked for the nearby Sioux Army Depot. Over a three year period from 1965 to 1967 the U.S. government deactivated the depot, and the compound slowly transformed into the new Western Nebraska Vocational Technical School. As a result, Harold Leggett sought work elsewhere, eventually relocating his family in the summer of 1965, to the northern California town of Manteca.
April's parents raised her in a strict Methodist family. By comparison to my father's lack of religious education, my mother often felt she had too many rules by which to live. Her parents herded their three children to church every Sunday, and April just naturally accepted their religion as a part of her life. As they grew older, demands were relaxed some, but Harold still made sure that his children knew their place.
Unlike the openly nerdy seeker Phil, who prided himself on going against the grain and being different for the sake of being different, my mother would easily blend in with any American crowd. Her appearance was something that I could only describe as resembling the comic strip character Cathy, except without the neurosis. The somewhat chubby girl with straight, dishwater-blonde hair to her waist, tended to follow the group and go with the flow, rather than rock the boat.
My mother had her direction in life laid out before her by her parents. But as she approached adulthood, she became increasingly dissatisfied with her life path, and began experiencing some moments of rebellion. April surrounded herself with friends of which her parents did not approve, and dated boys that her father despised. After just one semester attending a local junior college (which served as more of a location to meet and play cards with friends than as an educational experience), my mother dropped out to spend more time pursuing a party lifestyle. As she describes it, her life turned into a complete mess.
Around Valentine's Day, 1972, Phil and April met each other through some mutual friends. It was truly a case of opposites attracting. The strict Methodist raised girl, brought up by conservative parents in the Midwest, strove to rebel against her family tradition. The lonely drifter, tossing about with no apparent purpose in life, sought some much needed stability and answers to life's questions. No words could describe this meeting other than A Match Made in Heaven.
Following a brief courtship, the young couple married in August, 1972 at April's family's Methodist chapel. The small ceremony included just a few family members and friends, but they were happy as they began their new life together.
A child was already on the way when they began to tackle the issue of how they would approach raising their family. My father always wished he had the opportunity to learn about religion and the Bible as a youngster, and decided he would give that knowledge to his own children. When April suggested her Methodist upbringing, Phil unequivocally refused the offer. The Methodist Church had been one of the many with which he had become dissatisfied earlier in life.
Upon the birth of my sister, Jane, my parents began seriously exploring their religious options. They attended a few local congregations, but none of them allayed Phil's anxiety over answers about life's important questions. Eventually, my father decided that God could not be found in any church of which he knew. Religion did not play a significant role in their life for years afterward.
* * *
Enter the Lead Character
I was born Eric Noel Davis in March, 1976. The name Eric holds no significance to my family in any way, other than as the name of a friend my mother once had earlier in her life. The middle name, Noel, was simply the name of the lane in Lathrop, California, where our family's house stood. My parents needed an "N" word (No, not that "N" word) to use for my middle name, so that the acronym of my initials would spell "END," signifying the last child in their family.
The genetics passed on to me are a pretty even mix of both my parents. I inherited my mother's wiry straight hair, and my father's horrible eyesight. Since my seventh birthday, corrective lenses have been a prominent fixture on my face. Other than that, I have few distinguishable characteristics. I consider myself just a slightly above average American boy; average looks, above average height, and slightly above average intelligence.
From early in life I struggled with the desire for independence while others sought to instill their own views in me. At every opportunity I made attempts to break away and become my own man. My parents have occasionally reminded me that I weaned myself from the bottle at only nine months, after refusing the milk and repeatedly tossing the container from my crib. Apparently I wanted to do things my own way.
Not every personal declaration of independence yielded positive results for me. As a toddler, my mother took me with her as she visited a friend a few blocks from our home. During the course of the visit, while my mom's attention was focused on her friend, I managed to quietly find the set of keys in her purse and escape undetected.
I knew exactly where I lived, so I made my way there within a few minutes. Unfortunately I couldn't quite figure out how to operate the door lock and a curious neighbor soon found me fumbling with the keys. Later that day, instead of standing before the front door, I spent my time standing in the kitchen with my nose planted directly in one corner of the room.
Being a small child can be rough sometimes. Why won't my parents let me do whatever I want? It's so unfair. But I gradually learned to accept that I had no choice in the matter. I had to do what my parents told me if I ever expected to survive childhood.
Less than a year after my birth, the television miniseries Roots debuted to record audiences and rave reviews. Roots told the story of Kunta Kinte, who, while living in West Africa in the late 18th century, was captured and sold to slave traders on their way to Colonial America. The story continues to recount the true family history of Kunta's descendants, all the way down to one Alex Haley, who eventually wrote the entire tale. This series sparked a nationwide interest in family history and genealogical research. My parents were also swept up in this new craze. Apparently they weren't alone, even in their own family.
In 1978, a cousin of my mother sent word to members of his family that he had a collection of some of their family history. If they were interested they could borrow his book. When my parents enjoyed what they read, they decided to send word to the original publisher of the volume for their own copy. Finally, my father and mother had begun to discover their purpose in life.
At about that same time, the economy of the United States made one of its cyclical turns to the south. Many companies were failing and people lost their jobs. My father, too, was laid off (or "let go") repeatedly.
The lack of ability to find and keep steady work always seemed to be the bane of Phil's existence. A company would hire him only to go bankrupt within a year. Then he accepted another position that suited him, but the job required a long commute, so he resigned in order to take a job closer to home. Then, the new job was managed poorly and failed. And, of course, when you are constantly looking for work, you are always the "new guy" on the job. When that company experiences cutbacks, it's almost always the new guy that gets the axe first. Phil had his share of those moments as well. On many occasions our family struggled to survive from one month to the next. I honestly don't know how I survived childhood.
When yet another employer laid Phil off in June of 1978, he became burnt out on life and all its trials. He and my mother decided to withdraw what little money they had saved up and take a vacation from cold, hard reality. So on June 30, the same day they dropped a letter in the mail requesting a family history book from April's cousin, our family embarked on a month long journey across America.
We loaded up into our newly refurbished 1965 Dodge Coronet station wagon, which my father had recently tricked out with a rebuilt engine, chrome wheels, and a shiny metallic forest green paint job.
I was less than two and a half years old as we set out from Manteca, California, on our way to covering 23 states and 9,000 miles in 31 days. We enjoyed an unforgettable adventure, of which I remember almost nothing.
Excerpted from House of Faith House of Cards by Eric N. Davis Copyright © 2010 by Eric N. Davis. Excerpted by permission.
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