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Most of us cannot imagine a life of polygamy. However, Ruth Wariner has lived that life–she was one of 10 children born to her mother, Kathy, who was a plural wife. When Kathy was just 17, she married Joel LeBaron, a 42 year old man who already had several wives and many children. LeBaron founded the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times, and his brother, Ervil, killed him when he was just 49. That’s just the beginning of the story in The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner.
Wariner was just 3 months old when her father died. She was her father’s 39th of 42 children, and her mother’s fourth child. Soon after her father died, her mother married Lane, becoming his second wife, and that’s when the real nightmare began.
Lane ended up taking four wives, and he was not much of a provider. Kathy registered for welfare in the United States and traveled monthly with all of her children to Texas to get the welfare money.
Wariner’s Life in Mexico
In Mexico, Kathy’s house is made of adobe with unfinished walls, so mice (as well as other animals) can, and do, run rampant through the house. However, the house is only one element that makes her life more challenging. Her oldest daughter has mental issues (later diagnosed as schizophrenia), one of her son’s has a learning disability, and another child is medically fragile.
Lane rigs up electricity in the house, but he leaves exposed wires, even in the shower! When Kathy gives Lane some of her welfare money to buy a shower head, Lane instead buys a shower head for his first wife. Kathy is incensed, and Lane begins to beat her for her disobedience.
Life in the United States
So begins Kathy’s continual journey between living in the States and living in LeBaron, Mexico, where the rest of her first husband’s followers live. When Ruth is in the United States, she has a fairly normal upbringing. The family rents a nice home, the kids go to school every day and learn English. They eat junk food. (In Mexico they eat very meager meals.) Best of all, Ruth gets to spend time with her maternal grandparents.
Ruth has a disjointed childhood, spending much of her time raising her younger siblings and constantly moving between Mexico and the United States. Ruth begins to seriously doubt the benefits of plural marriage, especially when she sees how hard her mom has to work to even scrape out a living.
Ruth’s story is a sad one, and yet there is hope, especially when she forges her own life, far away from LeBaron.
I give this book 4 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.