The hardwood shook to the happy stomping as the boys’ wall swept the girls’ wall into the dance, ending all thought of wallflowers and wallweeds in a magical flash of music.
Cold February moonlight sparkled between pine shadows on the snow outside the rustic dance hall, but inside Hot August reigned as the Mormon dance band by that name made people’s feet itch. The pine trees outside seemed to sway with the rhythm, as happy, well-groomed young men and women all over the floor told a story with their smiles. They had lived the kind of lives that allowed them to meet life with joy, never looking over their shoulders. They were savoring a sweet present unmarred by the past.
The air in Denver, Colorado, is clean and almost telescopic in its clarity, a fitting home for an outstanding group of young Latter-day Saints who, thanks to the gospel, can literally “see forever.” Scattered two or three to a high school, these young men and women are very much in the world, and in order to avoid being of it, they must constantly and steadfastly say no to many things. But they get together often, because whenever they can find a wholesome activity, they lead the world in giving an exuberant, roof-rattling yes! Last February their yes took them into the Rocky Mountains on what they called a winter retreat.
The activity was well named, because winter had retreated deep into the Rockies, pursued by one of the driest years on record. Where snow drifts were normally overhead, they were now underfoot, but the group overtook the elusive white stuff at Snow Mountain Ranch, a YMCA camp about 90 miles out of and up from Denver, and gave it a pounding it will never forget.
The youth of the Denver Colorado Stake met in the afternoon at their stake center, and after a prayer, boarded Greyhound buses. The buses rolled quietly along the freeway for a while through old mining towns, but then they suddenly dropped their tails and soared like eagles on a thermal, back and forth up the face of the solemn old Rockies. At the end of every switchback it was hard to believe how high they were above where they had been seconds before. The night was fueled on song—everything from “Who Are These Children?” to “Granny’s in the Cellar.” There was time for pondering some profound questions too. These young gospel scholars may not know, like their Medieval counterparts, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but they can tell you with some authority how many young Latter-day Saints can fit on one Greyhound bus seat.
They could tell you some more important things too. One of the young men spoke of President Kimball’s visit to Denver to preside over a solemn assembly in the stake center. This young man had gone early to the center just to see a living prophet as he entered the building.
“I was amazed,” he said. “When President Kimball walked from his car to the building, people just kept driving on by and walking down the sidewalk without even a second glance. They didn’t know who was among them.”
The young Latter-day Saints knew, however, even if most people in Denver didn’t. These young men and women have a great love for their leaders, including the bishoprics and other officers in their own wards.
A sky-high experience was waiting for them at the 10,000-foot camp. They had been scheduled to stay in some dormitories resembling cut-rate bomb shelters, but on arrival they discovered that the camp manager had made special arrangements for them to stay in the nicest accommodations, a lodge that boasted a huge lounge with a fireplace, and comfortable, carpeted rooms. He explained that he had been so impressed with the last group of Mormons to stay at the camp that he knew he could trust LDS youth with the best. The nameless Mormon group who paved the way for this happy surprise will never know the impression they made, but these young people from the Denver area were grateful for their example.
Example is something they know a lot about, because examples are what they have to be at all times. “People expect so much more of you when they know you’re Mormon,” one girl said. “We have to be really strong to live up to our reputation.”
Another young lady said, “I know a lot of guys at school, and you can always tell the active Mormons. They look different. They talk differently. They act differently. They are a lot more concerned and caring about people. They are so much more friendly. They not only don’t do things to hurt people, but they go out of their way not to. They’re not thinking of themselves all the time. Their standards are so much higher. They still have fun, but you can tell that they’re doing what they know is right.”
One young man added, “Once a friend asked me, ‘You can’t drink, you can’t smoke, and you can’t do all those other things. What do you do for fun?’ and I told him, ‘I live! I’m alive and healthy, and I don’t need all that stuff.’”
By constantly living their religion in spite of numerous temptations, they have interested many of their friends in the Church, and as a result some of them have joined.
After checking into their rooms that night (the young men on one floor, the young women on another), the group walked through the moonlight and stillness to the dance hall where Hot August led them in wearing off some shoe leather. When the last dance had ended, the group met in the lounge to sing songs, watch the fire flicker, and eat popcorn. As they sat singing, they could see the snowy hill slanting past their picture window, the cold night washed in moonlight. The scene shimmered like a decanter of distilled Christmas.
Sleep was scheduled next, but it turned out to be a whole new style of sleep, consisting of a lot of radio music, laughing, and visiting with friends. If some of these young people had been around when the English language was being formed, the word sleep might never have been invented.
The next day dawned very cold, and the group began early by standing in line in the snow for what seemed like hours waiting their turn in the cafeteria line, an experience they enjoyed twice more during the day. Fortunately, getting up early was second nature to these young yes-sayers. Every weekday morning most of them start letting their lights shine about 4:30, when the rest of their neighborhoods are dark and silent. At 6:00 they attend early-morning seminary, their favorite class of the day. One of them said: “You’ve got to have a balance. All day long you’re bucking temptation; you’re bucking the world, and if you can start your day with the spiritual uplift of seminary, you feel that you can make it through the day. It gives you the extra momentum you need to get through. Whenever you get down during the day, you can remember what you learned in seminary that morning.”
Between meals the day was spent in several forms of Mormon madness. One was the Wonderful One-Man Plus Team Freestyle Two-Tube Ice-Eating Relays. Theoretically, one man on each team was inserted into the holes of two inflated innertubes, which were then rolled by the team to the end of the skating ice and back again. In reality, once inside the tubes, the man was often grasped by a glove or a boot and dragged unceremoniously over the course in a pretzel-puzzle of man, tube, and flying ice.
While the teams were busy pushing and pulling their hapless tube-jockeys toward the finish line, the spectators took part in a spontaneous Alice in Wonderland sort of ritual that consisted of standing on the sidelines heaving huge snowballs at the contestants as they passed. In between heats the genteel crowd threw snowballs at each other. When the races were over, this pastime degenerated slightly into a general free-for-all snowball fight. Interspersed among these rather formal events, volunteers from the group did freestyle slides on the slippery ice, a hair-raising and bump-raising crowd pleaser.
For a rest there was roller skating at the camp rink and tubing on a kamikaze run about the width of a yawn and a stretch. Hewn out of the thick timber, this chute of packed snow resembled a pinball machine as the riders caromed off mattress-and-haybale-protected trees. They came snaking down in chains of people-heaped tubes, spraying snow and sometimes exploding into tumbles of human snowbanks.
After drying out and warming up that evening, the group listened quietly as three of their bishops and a member of the stake presidency spoke to them of the joy that comes from wholehearted devotion to the gospel. Afterwards, young men and women stood to bear their own testimonies, sometimes speaking frankly of the wrestle they had had with life, and of how the gospel helped them to conquer—sometimes simply of the joy that comes from knowing something so important so surely. They all spoke of their love for one another.
“I have a lot of nonmember friends at school,” one of them said, “and their lives are so different from mine because they don’t know where they’re going, because they haven’t been taught. They’re not aiming for anything. They have no goals. I know what want to do with my life. I know where I’m going.”
As the buses glided down the mountains, back to the mile-high city of Denver, the young people knew they were going back to a world of very real conflicts where they would still have to say no many times to preserve their standards. But they also knew, and everyone with them knew, that whenever the Lord needed someone to vote yes, their voices would be among the happiest and the loudest.