I never thought I could fall in love with Wyoming.
Growing up, I had plenty of time to view the state from my back car window, driving with my family through Evanston on our way to Bear Lake, and up to Jackson Hole for my little sister’s ice skating competitions. When I thought of Wyoming, I usually pictured lots of open space and not a lot to do — boring and bland.
That all changed recently.
I had the opportunity to travel to Lovell, Wyoming, to perform at the town’s vintage theater, the Hyart. Rain and cold wind met me at the airport in Cody, but instead of a rejection, it felt more like an invitation. Frosty fall weather usually makes me want to curl up with a sweater and eat a homemade bowl of soup, and that is exactly what was waiting for me when I arrived.
I was gifted a brand-new sweatshirt with the local high school’s logo, “Lovell Bulldogs” printed across the front and immediately felt welcome. That feeling stayed with me throughout my entire visit. Every person I met seemed genuinely excited to have me in their town. I can honestly say I have never been treated so much like family at any venue I’ve been asked to perform at — ever. The cold, sterile hotel rooms that sometimes await me in other cities were replaced instead with an entire cozy home, courtesy of a family who so generously offered it up while they were out of town. Stew, cider and cinnamon rolls took the place of fast food.
I was able to tour the town’s chocolate factory, which, I must say, would put Willy Wonka’s to shame. “Queen Bee Gardens” has the most decadent and delicious chocolate made with honey from their bees. I felt like I was on an episode of “I Love Lucy,” walking past the candy conveyor belt with my white hairnet on. After the tour, we came around to the storefront where the manager, Jason, stood behind the counter — filled with mint, black cherry and peanut butter truffles, “Honeymoons” (caramel and pecan or cashew turtles), cinnamon honey taffy and organic dark chocolate — and stretched out his arms wide and said, “So what do you want?”
But perhaps one of the most touching moments happened when I was able to tour the incredible chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cody that has a mural painted in the foyer depicting the early life of the Saints. I stood in wonder as I saw the history of the Mormon pioneers brought to life. I also walked around the museum attached to the chapel where I was able to learn more about the Big Basin pioneers who came to Wyoming to help build a canal.
In the corner of the museum, there was a big electronic “book” where you could type in your name and FamilySearch account and see how and if you were related to some of these early pioneers. As I scrolled through my family history, I came across the account of my great-grandma Avera Marie Smith, who was my mother’s father’s mother. Her brief family history was written down, and as I read I was surprised to discover that like me, she had thought that one day she would become a famous singer or author. She jotted down a little poem:
“Once upon a time I planned to be an artist of celebrity,
A song I thought to write one day,
And all the world would homage pay.
I longed to write a noted book,
But what I did was learn to cook.
For life with simple tasks is filled,
And I have done not what I willed.
Yet, when I see children’s hungry eyes,
I am glad I make good cakes and pies.
Life is hard by the yard,
But by the inch — life’s a cinch.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about her, and my roots and ties to Wyoming. Turns out there are many roots, branches and twigs on my family tree that stretch to Wyoming.
Walking out on stage that night I wanted more than to just give the audience a good performance; I wanted to invite them into my world, through music, as they had so kindly invited me into theirs.
Being able to still travel across the United States to perform and speak is something I am very grateful for. But more than performing, I honestly have loved getting to know the amazing people who live all over the country.
Especially in the tiny town of Lovell.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.