Excerpt from The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Sound of Gravel

A Memoir

by Ruth Wariner

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner X
The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2017, 352 pages

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1

I am my mother's fourth child and my father's thirty-ninth. I grew up in Colonia LeBaron, a small town in the Mexican countryside 200 miles south of El Paso, Texas. The colony, as we called it, was founded by my father's father, Alma Dayer LeBaron, after God sent him a vision. In that vision, my grandfather was walking in the desert when he heard a voice that foretold of a place that would one day be populated with trees dripping with fruit, wonderful schools, beautiful churches, bountiful farms, and happy, faithful people. My grandfather had grown up in a fundamentalist Mormon family, and he always believed in the polygamist teachings of Joseph Smith. When the vision came to him, he knew he needed to move to Mexico and establish a community that would be a beacon of hope, an example of what comes from living righteously.

My grandfather and grandmother LeBaron established the colony in 1944, and other polygamist families soon followed. Before long, the dry Mexican earth was cleared of mesquite and planted with orchards, pecan trees, and gardens. Cattle were brought in to be raised, and the town grew and flourished. My grandfather boldly predicted that someday people from all over the world would make pilgrimages to the town, and that the work being done there would be of the utmost importance to the realization of God's kingdom on earth.

My grandfather died before I was born, but I entered childhood in the community that was his legacy. I took my first steps on the dirt roads that ran through the small farming community, tiny rocks and dry dirt getting stuck between my toes and piercing the soft soles of my feet. The trees my grandfather planted offered the shade that first cooled and protected my pale, freckled skin from the harsh desert sunlight. I ran through the peach orchards with my siblings, drank fresh milk from the cows on our dairy farm, and ate vegetables from the gardens my grandfather had first seen in the vision God sent him. My family and I always tried our best to be the happy, faithful people God had promised would come to populate the colony.

* * *

"RUTHIE," MOM YELLED to me from the hallway, "Get up quick. We'll be late for church." I rubbed my eyes and pulled myself out of the small bed I shared with my sister Audrey. Even though she was five years older than me, she wore a cloth diaper that often leaked during the night. I took a towel and dried my damp legs as Mom told me to hurry and get dressed. "There's not enough time to get Audrey and your brothers ready," she hollered. "Matt'll stay here and watch the kids and you'll come to church with me."

At five years old and with four siblings, having Mom's undivided attention was a rare privilege. I threw my pink cotton dress over my head and tried to run my fingers through my tangled hair. Mom put my baby brother Aaron in his playpen and called to my older brother Matt, asking him to keep an eye on things. Then she grabbed my hand and pulled me along behind her. I scurried to keep up, taking three steps for every one of Mom's long strides, happy to have been the one chosen to accompany her. The cool morning air was pungent with the scents of the freshly irrigated alfalfa fields, the dairy cows behind our house, and Mexican sage brush.

Every place in LeBaron was within walking distance of every other, and each unmarked, unnamed dirt road led to the church at the center of the colony. As Mom and I made our way to the simple, single-level adobe structure, pickup trucks sped past us, stirring up clouds of dust in their wake. As we got closer, we heard the strains of a piano and singing voices flowing through the two black wooden doors. "We're already late, Ruthie," Mom said, looking down at me through the plastic frames of her glasses. I was used to hurrying at her side; we were always late to everything.

Mom and I rushed past the few saddled horses tied to the crooked, wooden posts that held up the barbed-wire fence surrounding the churchyard. The singing voices grew louder as we entered the church and Mom searched the large, white-walled room for empty seats. The black wooden benches were full of congregants—women in Sunday dresses, nude nylons, and high heels, men in cowboy boots and Western shirts tucked into tight jeans under leather belts with big, silver belt buckles.

Excerpted from The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner. Copyright © 2016 by Ruth Wariner. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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