The wind chill seeped into my bones and had turned my legs into lead by the time I reached Cardston, Alberta. Once there I went to the Pro Shop, which was the town's only bike shop. I asked the store's owner to true my rear wheel. While Bart was truing my wheel his wife came in to bring a snack. After finding out that I was from Virginia they invited me to their home for dinner, and rest out of the rain. I gratefully accepted. All I had to do was wait for Bart to get off from work, and together we would bike over to his house down the road. I asked Bart if there was a place in town where I could get a hot cup of coffee. He told me that They didn't usually drink that "stuff" around here, but people went to a restaurant down the road to drink stuff like that. I hastily reworded what I said to, "hot coffee, or something else hot, like hot chocolate."
The door closed behind me and I walked into the chill air pondering this detail-a reference to coffee as "that stuff." Who would disdain Coffea Arabica, this aid to artists and sentries alike?
It was late Friday afternoon, and despite the cheerless skies teenagers cruised the strip. I cautiously walked down main street Cardston where connections from the past and present sparked in my mind. During my sophomore year in college I had dated a Mormon girl. This was my first experience with Mormons. She was as intelligent and brazen as she was eclectic. She too had referred to coffee, and tea as "that stuff." After our second date she became mysteriously unavailable to me by phone, email, or after class. Her explanation was a dubious copout: "I can't trust myself with you." In Fern, Pennsylvania, Diane Kurtzhals felt obliged to warn me of "those Mormons" out West. I had thought she was referring to the ones in Salt Lake City, Utah. Now, her words came back to me. And just recently on the way into Cardston, I saw a Brigham Young University ball cap lying by the roadside. All these points of time connected within me as I stepped into the restaurant. The sound of football pulled my eyes toward the ceiling-mounted TVs. Low and behold, BYU was playing Hawaii State. The blonde haired, blue-eyed waitress came to my table. Yes, I was decked out in cyclist gear, so, already feeling out of place, I didn't want to compound my outsider persona the nth degree by ordering coffee: "strawberry milkshake, please."
Later that evening, Bart and I rode to his house. We went up a hill, passing a white granite edifice vaguely resembling an amalgamation of Aztec and Grecian architecture. This was the Cardston Alberta Temple. This was where the Cardston community came to worship. He explained to me that they belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints. Mormon was a term used by people outside the faith in reference to The Book of Mormon, their primary religious text. Cardston, Bart explained, is a Mormon "colony" from Utah and eastern Washington. This struck me as ironic because earlier that day I had passed a historical marker explaining that the green valley leading into Cardston was once known as The Whiskey Gap in reference to Prohibition Era bootleggers smuggling Canadian whiskey across the border. We arrived to find dinner cooking and hot chocolate simmering on the stove. Bart introduced me to his wife, Rhean and his daughters Kelsey and Lacey.
During dinner I asked Kelsey if she thought it was strange that her father brought a stranger home. She chuckled and said yes. Later, she asked how long I would stay, and before I could answer, Bart and Rhean told me I could stay for the weekend. Rhean offered to bring me to the middle school where she worked, and use the computer lab to catch up on my emails and writing.
After dinner I learned that Kelsey had been rewarded for her leadership and faith. She was chosen to be president of her girl's youth group, and has one week to find a group of councilors and officials. Bart told me some of the locale history, and he was a descendant of the original settlers that followed Charles Ora Card from Utah into Alberta in 1887.
On Sunday morning I left Cardston behind. Before I departed, the Carlson family threw me a breakfast feast. Bart presented me with a Pro Shop tee shirt, and Rhean gave me some of her homemade power bars. I thanked them for their hospitality, their generosity toward a stranger, but most all, their patience with my ignorance.