The Latter Days: A Memoir

The Latter Days: A Memoir

by Judith Freeman


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At twenty-two, Judith Freeman—born and raised in a Mormon community—had abandoned her faith, but found herself working in the church-owned department store in the Utah town where she grew up. She was in the process of divorcing the man she’d married at age seventeen and was living in her parents’ house with her four-year-old son, who had already endured two heart surgeries. The surgeon, a rising star in his field, had become her lover. It was at this fraught moment that she decided to become a writer.
In this moving memoir, Freeman explores the circumstances and choices that informed her course, and those that allowed her to find a way forward. In shimmering prose, she gives us an illuminating, singular portrait of resilience and forgiveness, of memory and hindsight, and of the ways in which we come to identify our truest selves.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345806086
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/16/2017
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Judith Freeman is the author of four novels—Red Water, The Chinchilla Farm, Set for Life, and A Desert of Pure Feeling—and of Family Attractions, a collection of stories, and The Long Embrace, a biography of Raymond Chandler. She lives in California and Idaho.

Read an Excerpt

When we were sick, the elders were sometimes called to perform a laying on of hands. My father always took part in this ritual, as the priesthood holder in our household. Usually three elders joined together to perform the blessing, one of whom was always my dad.
Once, when I had a bad case of the flu, I remember the elders came to administer to me. This was after we had moved to the new sub­division high up on the mountainside, into a big house with six bed­rooms. My sister and I shared a bedroom on the main floor with a window that looked out onto the street. My mother, an avid quilter, had made new matching quilts for our twin beds and when I first saw our new room, with the pretty lavender flowered quilts and the new white dresser trimmed in gold, I thought it was almost too beauti­ful to occupy. When I came down with the flu, I didn’t really mind because I could stay home and lie in my new bed, in my new room, and look out the window at the view of the street and the mountains across the way.
It was late winter when the elders came, summoned by my father to perform the laying on of hands. My parents had become worried when I began to run a fever. The house was located in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains where heavier snows always fell, and for several days it had been snowing hard. As I grew sicker and the fever overtook me, I watched the snow falling outside, thick and mes­merizing flakes, a swirling world of whiteness that left me feeling wrapped in a woolly silence. The long feverish days passed this way, watching the snowstorm, with my mother coming into the room occasionally to check on me and bring me liquids.
And then, as dusk fell one night, two elders arrived, called by my father to help him perform a healing. One was Brother Skanky, a small wiry bald man who taught art at a local school, and the other was Brother Wadman, who lived just up the street and whose son Ricky was one of my best friends.
I heard the elders assembling in the hallway outside my room. I knew they had come to administer to me because my mother had told me earlier they’d been called. They came into the room with my father, bringing with them the scent of men and men’s lives and of power, carrying in the cold of the outside world, the smell of the world I’d been cut off from by my illness. They stood by my bed, pressing close in their woolen jackets and winter coats. The sharp, metallic odor of winter clung to their heavy clothes.
They were kind men, Brother Skanky and Brother Wadman. They both had a good sense of humor, especially Brother Skanky, and they talked playfully to me for a few minutes, asking me how I felt, if I thought I was going to live after all, patting my shoulder beneath the blankets and looking down tenderly at me. They said they had come to help me feel better, which they knew I would soon.
They grew more serious and gathered around my head and stood over me, looming above me in their largeness. My father took the small bottle of olive oil that had been consecrated earlier and placed a drop on my forehead and I closed my eyes. The elders placed their fingertips lightly on my head, over the spot where the oil had been spread, and then they closed their eyes and my father began to offer up a prayer.
He called upon the power of the priesthood that had been invested in him to make me well, as he uttered my full name, asking God to take away the sickness that had befallen me and restore me to health. He said other things, how grateful he was to belong to the one true church, restored here on earth in the latter days, and to hold the priesthood with all its powers, and he thanked God for giving me life, and asked that my body should be freed of any illness, and any suffer­ing, and then he closed the blessing by saying he asked these things, on my behalf, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
The prayer didn’t last that long, and as soon as it ended the men lifted their fingertips from my brow and opened their eyes. When their hands were taken away, I too opened my eyes and looked up at them: it was as if a great dark weight had been lifted from me.
I felt as if a spell had been cast over me—a good but slightly dis­turbing spell. I felt as if I had just emerged from a deep, dark, quiet place, a realm where magic could be summoned if you knew the right words and if you had the right power. You could heal people with that magic. All I had to do was submit to the power and believe in it, and I knew I would be made well. Still, the experience left me slightly unsettled and just a bit frightened, as if I had to be very care­ful now not to do anything wrong that might disturb the blessing.
I also understood that women could not have this power I had just experienced, that only men who held the priesthood could perform a laying on of hands. From a young age I realized that men would always have powers unavailable to me and thus I would always be beholden to them, required to obey their dictates as bearers of the holy priesthood, and thus I would forever exist in a somewhat lower realm.
This was not the first time I had experienced the laying on of hands, nor would it be the last. Each time the feeling was more or less the same—the drop of warm oil on my forehead, the weight of the elders’ hands, the descent into the dark and magical place with the large men looming over me. Each time I gave myself over to the elders and felt myself suspended in their priestly world where they could do with me as they wished, but somehow I remember this blessing on that winter night more vividly than others. Perhaps it was the fever, or the days enfolded by the storm, or the kindness of Brother Skanky and Brother Wadman. Or maybe it was simply that it all took place in that bedroom which did not yet feel mine.
Later, in that same room, when months had passed since the elders’ visit, I sat on my bed one afternoon, alone, with the door closed and the light falling through the window onto my flowered quilt, and I felt the powerful nearness of God. He was so near it was as if I could reach up and take His hand, and this is what I did: I simply reached up and held the hand of God, just for one quick moment. And then I let go, and went back to what I was doing.

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