Handcart Pioneers by C.C.A. Christensen

Today is Pioneer Day, the day we celebrate the arrival of the first Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley.

Last night, children throughout the state lay in their beds, desperately trying to stay awake in hopes of catching a glimpse of Brigham Young flying through the dusky desert skies in his covered wagon, bearing pioneer gifts for all the good boys and girls of Utah. But eventually their drowsy, uncaffeinated eyelids closed and they drifted off to sleep with visions of horehound candy dancing in their heads.

Young Kyson awoke to find a pair of suspenders hanging from his bedpost, while little McKelsey found the bonnet of her dreams tucked under her pillow. Then they rushed downstairs to find the pioneer boots they’d left on the mantle the night before filled with hardtack biscuits and salt pork.

Later, after a hearty breakfast of cracked-wheat cereal and reconstituted dried milk, the children will change into their pioneer costumes, grab their bikes, trikes, and little red wagons, and head to the church where they will recreate the great migration west by parading around on the sidewalk of the church for two and a half hours until they are almost delirious from heat stroke. Then they will gaze across the blazing hot asphalt of the church parking in much the same way that Brigham Young gazed across the arid, inhospitable Great Basin and declare, “It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on.”

The children will then break into four groups…

One group will divide the parking lot into a precise grid with “streets” wide enough to allow four bikes and a wagon to turn around easily.

West Side of East Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah

Another group will build an elaborate irrigation infrastructure capable of moving thousands of cubic feet of water to any block of the parking lot within seconds.

1000 South Canal (Looking West), Salt Lake City, Utah

And, in the center of the parking lot, the third group will start construction on a massive granite structure that won’t be completed in their lifetimes.

Laying the Capstone of the Salt Lake Temple

By 2:00pm the parking lot will have blossomed as the rose…at which point the fourth group, attracted by the affordable real estate prices, low crime rate, and high quality of life, will move in, take over the parking lot, and open a coffee shop on every corner where they can hang out and complain about the liquor laws.

In the evening, extended families will gather together for the traditional Jello buffet, showcasing all of nature’s bounty in suspended animation. Aunt Delsa will probably receive the “Best in Show” award again at this year’s Jello Mold-Off for her multi-tiered replica of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, constructed with alternating layers of lime Jello and baloney. Funeral potatoes will flow like a chunky, cheesy river, and there will be over a hundred “salads,” none of which will feature lettuce or any other type of leafy green.

Kids will bob for tater tots in vats of pink fry sauce and men will stand on the back porch, arms crossed, discussing this year’s vintage (rootage?) of root beers. Some will argue that A&W’s 2007 production has been disappointing, with a cloying vanillin sweetness and a weak finish, but just about everyone will agree that the 2006 Hires root beer, with its heavy sassafras notes, has only gotten better after spending a year in the food storage closet under the stairs.

Pioneer Day usually ends with the traditional Bonfire of the Zucchini, in which all of the neighborhood’s excess garden produce is piled into the middle of the street and set ablaze. Unfortunately, wildfire conditions this year have resulted in a strict ban on open flames, so most families will spend the evening indoors, baking dozens upon dozens of loaves of zucchini bread that they will then leave on each other’s doorsteps in the dark of night.

Then, as the children are tucked once again into bed, their parents will tell them harrowing stories of the hardships their pioneer ancestors endured so they could grow up to be the snotty, ungrateful, over-privileged, upper-middle-class layabouts with no sense of history that they are today. And they will explain to their children that they, too, are pioneers, blazing a trail for the generations of even snottier, more ungrateful, hyper-privileged, upper-upper-middle-class layabouts with even less sense of history that will follow.

Yes, we are all pioneers in our own snotty, ungrateful, over-privileged, upper-middle-class-layabout-with-no-sense-of-history way. And this is our day.

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