Davis County - For many, living a polygamist lifestyle seems almost impossible to comprehend. For former members of the Davis County-based Kingston clan, however, it was simply the structure on which most of their lives have been based. "You don't just give up your religion all of a sudden," said former Kingston member Christy Tucker, who left with her husband and children in 2001.
For members of the Kingston clan, which started in Bountiful in the 1930s and has since spread to other parts of the state, religion is the controlling force in everyone's daily life. Behaviors are determined by what group leaders call heavenly "directions," and can cover everything from marriage to schooling to the foods that members eat.
"You already know what you can and can't do - it's been ingrained in you since birth," said Rowenna Erickson, a former Kingston member who is now leader of Tapestry Against Polygamy. "You struggle, but you think you're sacrificing so you can gain eternal salvation."
Money and food are common subjects of the directions that come from church leaders. According to Brian C. Hales, noted Davis County author of several LDS books and books on polygamy, the leaders retain tight control over their members' finances.
"We all turned in money we'd earned, even if we were only five years old and it was only five cents or a penny," remembers LuAnn Cooper, a former Kingston who left the group 10 years ago.
This financial focus is sometimes reflected in the cost-consciousness in the approved menus. An example of this is an emphasis on raw oats, which can be bought cheaply and in large quantities and can feed a large group of children for quite some time.
"The church leader's favorite wife would get up in church and say that you can feed your children two meals of raw oats and one normal meal, and they'll do just fine," said Tucker with a laugh. "Now my kids won't eat oats on principle."
Cooper remembers the same thing.
"If we didn't have any milk, we had oats and water," she said. "If there was no milk, we'd add raisins to sweeten it out."
Slightly more unusual is a green drink involving comfrey and garlic that is a regular part of the diet of some members. According to Tucker, one of the early church leaders received a direction that comfrey can help the human body withstand radiation in case of an attack, and so he incorporated the herb into the entire group's daily life.
"Every good Kingston member has comfrey growing in their back yard," she said.
One of the most significant directions that affect life in the Kingston clan is who should marry whom, which, especially among upper echelons of the group, is often a close family member such as a sister. According to Hales, this has been done for several generations in order to keep certain bloodlines pure, which church leaders feel are descended directly from divine sources.
According to former members Erickson and Tucker, this focus on bloodlines affects daily life in the community. Erickson remembers kids with a more direct genetic connection to the Kingston leaders making fun of kids who had Italian blood in their backgrounds, and the Tuckers suffered persecution of their own due to a false rumor that her biological father was black.
"Boys would want to marry my daughter, but every time they tried to ask the leader about it he would shut them down," said Tucker.
Bringing the entire group together, however, is an intense commitment to privacy. According to former members, this has led the group in recent years to move their children from the public school system and into certain private schools in Salt Lake City. Other Kingstons, living in Hilldale and more outflung areas of the state, homeschool their children.
The need for privacy has also affected the dress of Kingston members. Rather than the pioneer-style dresses of the FLDS or the specifically blue clothing the Kingstons wore in the early days of their religion, group members now wear modern clothing indistinguishable from anyone else on the street.
"The Kingstons don't like anyone to know who they are," said Tucker. "The members go to great lengths to keep people from finding out what their religion is."
Erickson's memories are very similar.
"We were told not to talk about it with anyone on the outside," she said. "If we did, we would be betraying the religion."