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CAROLYN JESSOP was born into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a group splintered from and renounced by the Mormon Church, and spent most of her life in Colorado City, Arizona, the main base of the FLDS. Since leaving the group in 2003, she has lived in West Jordon, Utah, with her eight children. LAURA PALMER is the author of Shrapnel in the Heart and collaborated on five other books, the most recent being To Catch a Predator with NBC's Chris Hansen. She lives in New York City.
I was born in the bitter cold but into warm and loving hands. Aunt Lydia Jessop was the midwife who brought me into the world on January 1, 1968, just two hours after midnight.
Aunt Lydia could not believe I’d survived. She was the midwife who had delivered babies for two generations, including my mother. When she saw the placenta, she realized that my mother had chronic placental abruption. Mom had hemorrhaged throughout her pregnancy and thought she was miscarrying. But when the bleeding stopped, she shrugged it off, assuming she was still pregnant. Aunt Lydia, the midwife, said that by the time I was born, the placenta was almost completely detached from the uterus. My mother could have bled to death and I could have been born prematurely or, worse, stillborn.
But I came into the world as a feisty seven-pound baby, my mother’s second daughter. My father said she could name me Carolyn or Annette. She looked up both names and decided to call me Carolyn because it meant “wisdom.” My mother always said that even as a baby, I looked extremely wise to her.
I was born into six generations of polygamy on my mother’s side and started life in Hildale, Utah, in a fundamentalist Mormon community known as the FLDS, or the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Polygamy was the issue that defined us and the reason we’d split from the mainstream Mormon Church.
My childhood memories really begin in Salt Lake City. We moved there when I was about five. Even though my parents believed in polygamy, my father had only one wife. He owned a small real estate business that was doing well and decided it made sense to use Salt Lake as a base. We had a lovely house with a porch swing and a landscaped yard and trees. This was a big change from the tiny house in Colorado City with dirt and weeds in the yard and a father who was rarely home.
But the biggest difference in moving to Salt Lake City was that my mother, Nurylon, was happy. She loved the city and delighted in having my father home every night after work. My dad was doing well, and Mom had enough money to buy plenty of groceries when we went to the store and even had some extra for toys.
There were soon four of us. I had two sisters, Linda and Annette. I was in the middle–Linda was eighteen months older than I and Annette two years younger. My baby brother Arthur arrived a few years after Annette. My mother was thrilled to finally have a son because in our culture, boys have more value than girls. Linda and my mother were very close. But my mother always seemed very irritated by me, in part, I think, because I was my father’s favorite.
I adored my dad, Arthur Blackmore. He was tall and thin, with large bones and dark, wavy hair. I remember that whenever we were around other families I thought I had the best-looking father in the entire world. I saw him as my personal protector and felt safe when I was in his presence. His face lit up when I entered the room; I was always the daughter he wanted to introduce when friends visited our house. My mother complained that he didn’t discipline me as much as he did my sister Linda, but he ignored her and didn’t seem to care.
We only lived in Salt Lake City for a year, but it was a happy one. Mother took us to the zoo and to the park, where we’d play on the swings and slides. My father’s business was successful and expanding. But he decided we needed to move back to Colorado City, Arizona—a tiny, nondescript FLDS enclave about 350 miles south of Salt Lake City and a stone’s throw from Hildale, Utah, where I was born. The reason we went back was that he didn’t want my sister Linda attending a regular public school. Even though she would technically be going to a public school in Colorado City, most of the teachers there were FLDS and very conservative. In theory
Excerpted from Escape by Carolyn Jessop, Laura Palmer
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