Who are these children?

SaturdaysWarriorORIGINALCOVER“Mom, you have to hear this.” I lean closer to my son’s phone as he turns the volume up on a song. He and I like similar music only his is about forty years more cool. Luckily he shares. “What does that sound like?” It sounds familiar but I can’t place it. He looks at me expectantly. I shake my head. No idea. “The chorus sounds just like ‘Who are these children coming down . . .’ that Saturday’s Warrior song.” It totally does. “Is it a sample?” He often plays music that combines parts of other songs. But no, it is simply one of those cosmic moments when an indie band reaches out into the universe for inspiration and channels Lex de Azevedo.

Flashback to 1974. I was eleven or twelve when my family moved to San Jose, California from the Midwest. We were recent converts, in our first real Ward, and the members lovingly adopted and shepherded us through the newness of being Mormon, Californian and Suburban. As part of this tutelage, we were swept up in a church field trip to see the original traveling production of Saturday’s Warrior. I had never been to a live musical before and the stage and orchestra alone were transporting. Then the play started. In the two years since being baptized, I had listened to every missionary lesson, read every church book I could find and steeped in the grand scope of the Plan of Salvation. Yet, watching it depicted in story and song was like having a vision. A personal glimpse into heaven. Nothing had prepared me for this complete and perfect version of tween theology. My parents bought me the record album and my sisters and I reenacted every scene, sang every song, for hours and days and years. It shaped my view of the world and like many of my peers, I showed up at BYU humming “I take some paper in my hand . . .” and scanning the crowd for my Tod.

Fast forward to a family road trip. My own boys were middle school age. We were wandering around a used book store when I found a CD of Saturday’s Warrior, the original California cast. Over my husband’s incredulity (at eleven years old, he had been transported by the symphony), I announced that “we must buy this.” We were not active at this point and the boys’ Primary education had been spotty. I had to explain everything from the preexistence to zero population. This quasi-religious framework was punctuated by starry-eyed descriptions of Mack and his “bad kids gang” and wise Pam in her wheelchair. They stared at me as I sang every song with eerie exactness, knowing when to breath in time with the actors. They deemed it all quite ridiculous and demanded that we play it nonstop for hours and days and miles. With irony, of course.

Last fall I officiated my sister’s wedding. The whole magical event could not have been more of a departure from our Mormon upbringing. Set in a public space, against the backdrop of the Mount Rainier forest preserve, two brides dressed in deep jewel-tone colors, with a few witnesses and bouquets of orange wild flowers. As we shared our opening thoughts, a reference to Saturday’s Warrior showed up yet again. I reminded them that in spite of their disdain for sentimental nonsense, they had somehow found each other – across three countries, multiple languages, a national conflict, nearly a foot in height and span of age. Coincidence? Destiny? For a split second, we were back on the makeshift stage in our parent’s dining room, at that dreamy moment when we consider what might have happened if Julie’s missionary had been sent to another place or another park.

Adult understanding has barely dimmed my love for the soaring music and goofy story. I apparently fell under the spell too young and at too formative of time in my life. Intellectually, I realize the absurdity and even danger of expecting precognition in how we navigate our lives. Why do some of these songs still resonate, after so much time and space and general disbelief? Then there is that shrug of memory and I feel that same strange empowerment, the perhaps immature but no less motivating sense of purpose, and without thinking I look behind me, half hoping to see glory trailing from my feet.



Pandora spends most of her time tinkering with bits of words, fabric and yarn. She lives in Chicago with her husband and a pug. She has two grown up sons who have many adventures.

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6 Responses

  1. Stacy says:

    I think Saturday’s Warrior might have warped an entire generation of Mormons.

    I’m 37 years old, have 5 kids, and still live in fear, sometimes wondering that I have a sad little girl up in heaven crying because Jimmy forgot his promise and we’ve sworn up and down that we’re not having more.

    And I too can still sing every word of those songs, and probably will all day now!

  2. Emily U says:

    I love this, Pandora! I somehow grew up Mormon without ever having seen the film, and I wouldn’t recognize the songs if I heard them, but I acquired the worldview nevertheless. Osmosis, I guess. You paint a beautiful picture of your sister’s wedding, including their unlikely meeting. Isn’t it strange how events can seem inevitable and impossible at the same time? I think that’s why movies like Sliding Doors and Back to the Future or books like Life After Life speak to many of us – it’s like we experience time as totally linear but we also feel that it should have other dimensions. Or at least it’s fun to think about what it would be like if we could depart from one-directional time.

    Stacy – I share that fear. But my phantom sad little girl isn’t crying up in heaven, she got sent to another mother in the very worst of circumstances and is growing amid tragedy and it’s my fault.

  3. Caroline says:

    Love this post, Pandora. Especially how you connect some of the sentiments in the play to the thoughts you expressed at your sister’s wedding. So interesting how some of these ideas still inform, at least in some small way, how we see the world and relationships.

    I was born in the 70s and somehow escaped Saturday’s Warriors, though I’ve heard many references to it as an adult. Going now to You Tube to see if I can listen to a song or two from the play…

  4. Patty says:

    I never did see “Saturday’s Warriors” but many people around me did. I must confess that I sometimes think I knew some of my second grade students in the pre-existence. Some sad stories in my Title I school. I hope I did enough whether we knew each other before this life, or not.

  5. MargaretOH says:

    I was about nine or ten when my stake put on “My Turn on Earth” and I feel the same way about it. I often find myself humming the songs for no reason. And my kids are totally into Scripture Scouts, which has a song about the Golden Rule in the New Testament CD. At one point I found myself explaining to them why the MToE Golden Rule song is far superior to the Scripture Scouts one. I was hearing myself talk and simultaneously realizing how ridiculous I sounded but I couldn’t stop. There’s something that hit me deep with that musical.

    • Jeanette says:

      Thanks so much for this! I could probably sing all the words of most of the songs too. We listened to the record over and over growing up, and I saw the stage performance in San Diego. (I never saw the movie, afraid it would disappoint.) Seeing a starry sometimes makes me sing “Line Upon Line,” which I still think has a beautiful message.

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