As a child growing up in a strict Mormon household in the ‘70s, I spent most of my day trying not to unintentionally invite Satan into our home. It was a struggle because according to my mom there were hundreds of things we could do that would summon the Prince of Darkness to our doorstep.
I pictured him sitting on his throne in the lowest level of glory (Mormons don’t call it “hell”), receiving an elegant hand-written note that read, “You are cordially invited to live at the Stewart home because Peri’s sister listens to Metallica pretty much every day. Plus, Peri frequently forgets to say her prayers, she blackmailed her brother and she uses face cards to play Blackjack, betting Froot Loops and M&Ms.”
I spent most of my childhood deathly afraid.
Sunday school teachers would recount true stories of children who snuck into R-rated movies only to wake up in the middle of the night to find either Jesus sadly shaking his head or Satan leering and shaking his pitchfork. I didn’t watch an R-rated movie until I was 46.
In the 1970s, Ouija boards were all the rage. My mom warned us, in no uncertain terms, that playing with a Ouija board was guaranteed to beckon all sorts of demons. It didn’t help that I didn’t know Ouija was pronounced “WeeJee.” I thought I was playing Owja.
Once, my sister stayed home from church pretending to be sick and heard (cloven?) footsteps in the room above her. She swore off Ouija boards and Black Sabbath for a month or two before returning to her demonic ways.
My dad was no help. He frequently added to my levels of hellish anxiety, especially when I yelled for him in the middle of the night, certain I’d heard a demon growling under my bed.
He’d stumble into my room, look under the bed and say, “You’ll be fine as long as you stay in bed. If you have to get up, I hope you can run fast. You should probably keep your feet under the covers.”
Dad would go back to bed, leaving me absolutely terrified. So I’d wake up my sister so we could be terrified together.
On top of the constant fear of running into Satan, we had to avoid accidentally summoning Bloody Mary by saying her name three times or luring any number of evil spirits to our living room by watching “Fantasy Island.” I once caught my sister drawing pentagrams on her notebook and made my own version of holy water to exorcise any demons who might be lurking nearby.
When I turned 13, I was pretty sure I’d encouraged a poltergeist to take up residence in our home. There was suddenly lots of slamming doors, dishes flying through the air, vulgar language spewed during dinner and an overall evil atmosphere. Turns out it wasn’t a poltergeist, just me being 13.
Mom always said the devil didn’t have a tail and horns, but looked like an ordinary human. Occasionally, the Fuller Brush salesman would come to the door and I’d eye him with deep suspicion. Was it really a door-to-door salesman, or was it Satan trying to infiltrate our weak defenses.
At one point, I wished he would just show up so I could stop worrying about it. I imagined he’d knock on the door and, resigned, I’d let him in and tell him to find a place to sleep.
“But you can’t live under the bed,” I’d say. “It’s taken.”