Before you ask, let me tell you the answer is no. I am not a Mormon. Okay, I am basically a mild-mannered, clean-cut guy who happens to be named Jared. Yeah, I know. There are a lot of Mormon boys named Jared. But as far as I know, the Mormon church doesn’t have a monopoly on clean-living guys named Jared. Just because I’m not a Mormon doesn’t mean I don’t like them.
Take Oscar Whitman, for example. Oscar is a Mormon. He’s a witty, athletic, clean-cut kid like me, and that’s probably why he became my best friend, despite the fact he’s a Mormon.
I first met Osc in sophomore English—he sat behind me—and we got to know each other so well in football (he ran, I blocked) and in basketball (he shot, I rebounded) that by the end of our sophomore year, we were best friends.
The first year I knew him, he never said two words about church stuff. And I wouldn’t have known he was a Mormon if he hadn’t refused to join a bunch of us for some Sunday hoops.
“Sunday basketball wouldn’t go over too well with my dad,” Osc told me. “He’s the bishop of my ward.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You’re a Mormon?”
“Yeah, is that bad?”
“No, it’s just that, well, I never figured you were one of them, that’s all.”
Osc just smiled.
One afternoon about two weeks ago, Osc and I were eating lunch together in the cafeteria. Just before we finished, he said, “Hey, Jared, I talked to Carol Lunt yesterday at church.”
“Carol Lunt?” I nearly choked. “You mean she’s Mormon too?” Carol Lunt, the most beautiful girl in the junior class, occupied the seat in front of me in math. For three months I had been trying to get up enough courage to ask her out.
“Yeah, she’s one of us. Anyway, I thought you might be interested because we were talking about you.”
“Great. I suppose you told her what a terrible heathen I am, right?”
He smiled and shook his head. “No, instead of telling her the truth about you, I told her a bunch of baloney about what a clean-cut, hard-working, nice dude you are. And you know what was really weird? I think she believed everything I said.”
My stomach, or maybe it was my heart, turned a back flip.
“Anyway,” Osc continued, “I told her she and Marie Allen—you know Marie, don’t you?—ought to go out with some of us sometime.”
“And what’d she do, throw up right then and there?”
“No, she said it sounded like fun. You want me to go ahead and set it up? I mean, can you handle going out with a bunch of Mormons?”
“Well, I’m already used to you, and I suppose I can put up with a couple more for a few hours—especially if one of them is Carol Lunt.”
Osc and Carol planned the big event. They weren’t letting me in on anything. All Osc would say was that it was going to be “steak night” so I should bring extra money and “not dress like a slob.”
Saturday night, Osc picked each of us up and drove us to the Porter House, the largest, most popular steak restaurant in town. As we pulled into its parking lot, the aroma of charbroiled beef wafted into my open window and made my mouth water. It was going to be a great night.
Osc and I both ordered the Porter House special. Carol wanted filet mignon, and Marie ordered salisbury steak. After the waitress had taken our orders, Marie said, “Did you hear what Brother Craig did at Mutual last week?” Osc and Carol shook their heads. “He found out that last month it was the teachers from the Fourth Ward who started playing basketball in the cultural hall before our Relief Society was finished.”
Osc and Carol listened with interest, but I had no idea what Marie was talking about. She was speaking English, but most of it didn’t make a bit of sense to me.
“Well,” she continued, “one of their basketballs bounced right onto the table that held all the cakes the women had made in their cake-decorating lesson and smashed almost all of them.”
“Oh, man,” said Osc, “I bet Sister Hansen went nuts.”
Marie nodded. “She tried to make the boys stop, but they just grabbed the ball and ran out of the cultural hall, tracking frosting all over the building.”
“So that’s where all that mess came from,” said Carol.
“Right,” nodded Marie.
Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer. “Wait a minute; wait a minute,” I interrupted. “Will somebody please explain what in the world you’re talking about?”
“Church stuff, Jared,” said Osc.
“I figured that much, but I never knew Mormons had nuns and monks.”
“Huh?” we said in unison.
“Nuns and monks. You know, sisters and brothers.”
Marie giggled and Carol tried to hide her grin behind her napkin.
“Don’t be such a Gentile,” said Osc. “We’re talking about people in our ward. Mormons call each other brother and sister. Like Carol, she’s Sister Lunt. Marie is Sister Allen, and to them I’m Brother Whitman. Understand?”
“Okay, I get it,” I said. “But I don’t understand what a bunch of teachers were doing in a cultural hall playing basketball. Imagine what would happen if some faculty members got caught dribbling a basketball in the school auditorium?”
Osc sighed. “A cultural hall is a Mormon gym.”
“I don’t know. And teachers aren’t teachers. They’re 14- and 15-year-old guys who have the Aaronic Priesthood.”
“Give me a break. High school guys have the priesthood in your church?”
“Sure,” said Osc. “I’m a priest.”
“Oh, really, Father Whitman? Where’s your collar?”
“Come on, Jared. Not a Catholic priest. It’s different with Mormons.” He looked at Carol who was biting her lower lip to keep from laughing. “Sister Lunt, would you mind translating our Mormon talk for Jared tonight? I’m not getting through to him.”
“Sure, Brother Whitman, I’ll be glad to.”
Our dinner arrived and interrupted the conversation. It took us nearly an hour to work our way through the steaks, baked potatoes, salads, and vegetables. But dinner was fantastic, and not because I was sitting in front of the largest and most delicious steak I had ever seen. Osc, Carol, and Marie were great company, too, even if they were Mormons.
While the waitress was clearing away the remains of our feast, Marie and Carol excused themselves so they could go make themselves even more beautiful for part two of the double date.
“Great meal, Osc. This is a blast,” I said, after they’d left.
“Hey, what else could you expect from your best friend?”
“So what’s next,” I inquired.
Osc slid a toothpick into his mouth. “I told you this was a steak night, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, and we’ve had our steaks. Now what?”
“Another steak,” was his reply.
“No way, man. I can’t eat another bite. I thought we’d be going to a movie or something.”
He shook his head. “Nope. Carol and I planned this. It’s steak night all the way.”
When the girls came back, we paid our bill, left the restaurant, and drove until we came to a large building. “This is the place, guys,” said Osc, as he pulled into the crowded parking lot.
I couldn’t believe it. These guys had led me into a Mormon trap! “Hold it,” I said. “I’m not going to church with you. Osc, you said this was going to be a steak night.”
“Yeah, a steak dinner and a stake dance. This building is a stake—s-t-a-k-e—center, Jared, and there’s a dance here tonight.”
“Oh, a dance.” I blushed for doubting my friends. “Sorry I panicked, but I figured you guys were dragging me to some sort of religious revival. Let me guess. The dance is in the cultural hall.”
Osc chuckled and Carol said, “Very good, Jared. You’re finally getting the hang of Mormon-talk.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first Mormon dance. Waltzes, maybe. Or if it was really wild, a square dance. But the music coming through the door of the cultural hall sounded familiar enough, and the few kids I saw in the lobby looked like regular kids.
On the inside, though, it didn’t look like any dance I’d ever seen before. The first thing I noticed were the lights—they were still on. They weren’t glaring bright, but they were on. And the music was different too. At most school dances, the music’s loud enough to pry the floorboards loose; this music was loud, but not enough to melt anybody’s eardrums.
As it turned out, we danced every dance that night, and I had the time of my life. After it was over, Osc drove us all home. When he got to my house, the first stop, he parked the car, turned around from the front seat, handed Carol a shopping bag, and said, “Go ahead, Carol.”
She reached into the bag and pulled out two packages, each wrapped in the Sunday comics. “These are mementos of tonight,” she said, handing one to Marie and one to me.
“The finishing touch on steak night,” Osc added. “And yours has something special inside, Jared. You just can’t open it until you get home.”
I said good night and went inside. I went straight to my bedroom and opened the package. Inside was an aluminum tent stake with “Steak-Stake Night” written on one side in light red nail polish and “Group Date #1” written on the other side. Also in the wrapping was a navy-blue paperback book, the Book of Mormon. I propped the stake up among the trophies on top of my dresser and flopped down on my bed to look at the book my friends had given me.
Pasted inside the front cover was a photo of the three of them taken at one of those instant photo booths. Under the photo was a message Osc had written:
This book contains the precious truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s a book that each one of us has studied and read. We know it’s true, and we know its principles are the keys to happiness, not only in this life, but in the life to come. As your friends, we hope you’ll read it, think about it, and pray about it. If some parts are difficult to understand, we’ll be glad to explain them to you or find someone who can. We know if you’ll read and pray about this book, you’ll learn for yourself that it’s true.
Your Mormon friends,
Oscar, Carol, and Marie
I closed the book and lay on my bed thinking about the three of them. Oscar, Carol, and Marie were special people, some of the best I’d ever known. I wondered what made them that way. Whatever it was, I was glad to have friends like them, friends who cared enough about me to share something that was obviously very important to them.
It was getting late, so I put the Book of Mormon on my desk and started getting ready for bed. Tomorrow I’d start reading that book to see if I could find out what makes it—and my friends—so special.