Forever Young

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, live from the Delta Center, it’s the Brigham Young 200th Birthday Extravaganza Spectacular of the Stars! With guest appearances by Heber C. Kimball, Eliza R. Snow, Porter Rockwell, Johnston’s Army, and more than 40 wives!

Now, here he is, the guest of honor himself, the Moses who supposes that deserts are roses, Brother Brigham!

BRIGHAM: Thank you. Thank you very much. No, please, sit down. That’s very kind of you, really.

Brothers and sisters, it’s a pleasure to be here with you to celebrate two centuries of living. Two hundred years! Can you believe that? Why, when I was born, Sen. Strom Thurmond was just a city councilman!

But I kid the fossilized artifact. Seriously, though, when I came into this world on June 1, 1801, the territory we now occupy had no running water, no electricity and no modern roads. Now I can take a bath and watch television, but it’s still a two-days journey from Provo to Salt Lake!

Things certainly have changed in our lovely Deseret. For one thing, “In Our Lovely Deseret” is now sung only for its kitsch value. When I governed this territory, “In Our Lovely Deseret” was a sober hymn of commitment and hygiene.

For another thing, I see you’ve invited the entire world to visit our fair state in 2002 for an athletic contest of some kind. This is certainly a reversal of the policy I established, under which foreigners were shot on sight. Or perhaps that is still your intention, in which case I wink slyly at your cunning and say, bag a Frenchman for Brother Brigham!

Athletics have always been important here in the territory. From the earliest days, the saints would gather on Saturday afternoons to toss around an inflated pig’s bladder and shoot gentiles for sport. I remember one particular match held at Mountain Meadows. What a massacre that was! Sports aficionados and anti-Mormons discuss it to this very day.

Overall, I am pleased with the course Utah has taken. We now lead the world in the production of guilt, for example. However, I notice the fine chain of stores I built, Zions Cooperative Something Something, or ZCMI, is now in the hands of someone named Meier and Frank — gentiles, apparently, and by gentiles, I mean Jews. Brethren, what are we to make of this? Next thing you know, ZCMI will be open on Sundays and the merchandise sold there will be reasonably priced.

But I commend those who have managed the affairs of Utah these past hundred years. It’s not an easy state to govern, though it is pretty easy to draw. Nice try on the polygamy thing, but you’re not going to get rid of it. You know how you’re not supposed to get between a mama bear and her cubs? Try getting between a mama bear and her sister-mama bears and their papa bear.

Brigham Young University has done well for itself, too. You know, we were originally going to name it after Orson Pratt, but we changed our minds when we realized the initials would have been O-P-U. At any rate, I commend the faculty there for creating an environment conducive to marriage. Men are getting married immediately after returning from their five-year missions to England (that is still the routine, right?), and women are approaching the altar before their freshman years are even completed. Bravo! Wed early and often, that’s what I say.

So I’m grateful to be celebrating my 200th birthday here with you fine people. Salt Lake City has truly been made beautiful — a far cry from when we arrived here in 1847 and I said: “THIS is the place?!?” But enough of my rambling. Let us enjoy the festivities! Next, please welcome Emma Smith and the Emma Smith Comedy Dancers in a number entitled, “It’s Time to Reorganize.” Good night!

Two days before this column appeared, my boss remarked, "Friday is Brigham Young's 200th birthday. There are going to be a lot of celebrations in Utah. You should do a column about it."

It was by way of suggestion, not command, as my boss generally gave me plenty of freedom about my subject matter. However, the last time he had made an off-hand suggestion like that, it had resulted in the polygamy column -- one of the most popular columns I'd ever written. So I took the Brigham Young thing as a fun challenge, a way to further hone my skills at writing on assigned topics in a short amount of time.

I discarded several premises before hitting on this one. Brigham Young is a hero in Utah, which is fine. But he is also considered by most Utahns to have been a prophet of God. This makes it a bad idea to make fun of him too pointedly. I had already used the "interview a legendary figure and make an idiot out of yourself" format with the Dalai Lama, so I had to find a way of making Brigham Young funny without belittling him any more than the avuncular fellow would have belittled himself.

I'm pleased with the way it turned out, if I may say so. I love those TV specials that are a "tribute" or "salute" to someone famous, where the famous person sits and listens to everyone say swell things about them, and people do song and dance numbers. (I originally had TV cues written in the column, too: "shot of audience applauding," "shot of Strom Thurmond laughing," etc.)

One thing I'm not clear on is, in my little world, where Brigham Young has been all this time. He's still alive at 200, but he apparently has not been in Utah for the past 100 years. You can make up your own theories, I guess.

The joke about BYU being called OPU is a joke I remember my dad telling me when I was very, very young, before I even knew who Orson Pratt was. (He was an early LDS missionary and scholar, brother of Parley P. Pratt, who fit the same description.)

I'm not going to explain all the Mormon jokes, except for one obscure one that even some of the Mormons might not get. Johnston's Army was a troop sent by the U.S. government to put down the "Mormon rebellion," which in fact did not exist, not long after the Mormons arrived in Utah. The Mormons, not wishing to be evicted from yet another location, filled in the foundation they had dug for the Salt Lake Temple. They also filled their houses with straw and stood by with lit torches, willing to burn the city to the ground before they'd let someone kick them out and live in the homes they'd built. They vowed not to fight, however, and no fighting was necessary.

"Bag a Frenchman for Brother Brigham!" is one of my favorite things I've ever written. It sounds like a campaign slogan or a bumper sticker. In fact, I would love to see it on a bumper sticker, or maybe a T-shirt. Also, the bit about "In Our Lovely Deseret" (a Mormon children's song) makes me laugh, too. A sober hymn of commitment and hygiene! I guess you have to know the song to get it.