Gollum And Little E: A Love Story

When Lauren Haskins was two years old, she would strip down to her diaper and climb the face of the Haskins bookcases.1Judge not lest ye be judged. Haskins bookcases are always bolted to the wall, for earthquake reasons. Once she reached the top, she would perch for quite a long time and madly cackle. And if you asked her if she wanted help to get down, she would say “I fine!” Since this was in the era of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, her bookcase scamper-and-cackle routine earned her the nickname “Gollum,” and has been the subject of much family humor in the ensuing two decades.

Now she is 19 years old, and she has put her furniture-scaling days behind her.2As far as this writer knows, also the diapers. She is now a college student, heading into her junior year at Utah State University where she intends to earn a BFA in Costume Design.

Her route to Logan reminds of the importance of perseverance, mixed with some good fortune. Lauren always loved to perform, and she did it with confidence. A favorite book series of hers was the “Junie B. Jones” series, about a girl much like Lauren. When the producers of the inevitable movie announced that anyone could submit an audition video to play the title character, she was in the backyard shooting a scene the next day.

Longtime observers have long recognized Lauren’s unique drive. One of Lauren’s aunts, Regina Fowler, notes that Lauren is “motivated” and “determined” in everything she does. Another aunt, Carolyn Dunkle, remembers that Lauren “never slept,”3Confirmed, though she is not alone in this in the Haskins household and posits the reason is because she doesn’t “want the world with its excitement to pass her by.”

Aunt Carolyn also credits Lauren as a “visionary planner” inspiring to others. To that end, Don Fowler—Lauren’s grandfather—remembers at one family reunion4Or “Cousins’ Camp,” for the uninitiatedthat a then-12-year-old Lauren gathered up all the necessary items and organized a “general store” for the family, complete with work schedule. Aunt Carolyn also remembers a series of doll houses, pioneer tableaus, homemade plays, and even the building of a special “girls’-only” cabin at Camp Bullfrog, where her grandparents live on 20 acres in the southern Sierra Mountains. Lauren makes the plans, and others follow in her formidable wake.

Lauren’s “drive and determination,” as Don describes it, also marks Lauren’s choice of profession. As a high school freshman, she worried whether she would be placed on a costuming crew. By the end of her sophomore year, she was given her first design opportunity for a Children’s Theater performance of The Little Mermaid. And by her junior year, she was the master of her costuming domain, a two-time winner of Claremont High School’s coveted “Golden Scissors” award, and in her senior year, recognized with the Carolyn Elder Award5Ms. Elder was a respected costumer in Northern California who worked with high school students for decades. She recently passed away, and we wish her family and friends well. from the California Educational Theatre Association.

After high school, Lauren headed for Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Best known for not being the University of Utah, Utah State is one of the “land-grant” colleges made possible by the Morrill Act, a Civil-War era law granting federal land to the states for the purpose of endowing colleges specializing in practical applications—agriculture, science, and engineering. One story, possibly apocryphal, suggests that when the Utah Legislature was deciding where to place the university that would become Utah State, the finalists were Logan and Provo.6Provo, of course, is today the home of Brigham Young University. Logan supposedly won out because Provo at the time hosted the State’s mental asylum. One with a keen wit may suggest it still does.

In any event, it is fair to say that Lauren’s short-term goals did not include marriage. But then she met Eric Wilkes at the beginning of her sophomore year. A friend of Lauren’s roommate, Eric was one of several people invited to her apartment prior to a school dance. They hit it off nearly immediately, went to the dance, watched a scary movie (Lights Out) and a scarier movie (Frozen), and started spending all their time together. A few days later they left a football game to discuss their relationship in the cemetery next to campus.7At least, this is what was reported to the author. They have been together since.

Melinda Wilkes, Eric’s mother, remembers that Eric always wanted to be close to her, something that was true of Lauren and her mother as well.8Lauren would famously refuse to nurse as a baby unless her mom went and laid down with her, which was inconvenient to do eight times a day. And Melinda also speaks of Eric’s “determination” in reaching his goals. Driven by a competitive spirit, Eric was a Sterling Scholar9A competitive scholarship program for Utah students, won multiple scholarships, and spoke at his high school graduation ceremony.10Eric apparently has an underrated sense of humor as well. As a 12-year-old, he spent several months convincing his family that he intended to grow up and become a “nipple model.” And if you believe I put that story in a footnote just to reward the people who read the footnotes, you are correct.

Eric first intended to study engineering at Utah State, but he always found psychology interesting. His mother remembers that in high school, Eric made a deal with his older sister to help her study if she would help him with his psychology homework. Encouraging each other as they went, both are now psychology majors.

Indeed, Eric believes that psychology holds something of a calling for him. As someone who reports personally experiencing a fair amount of trauma, Eric wants to help others confront and overcome their own trauma. He passionately believes that America needs to take mental health concerns far more seriously than it does. He further worries about stigmatizing those that suffer from mental illness, who often require appropriate care to return to full, productive lives.

For their part, Lauren and Eric11You may be asking “Little E?” I don’t know. Lauren claimed it was his nickname. report that though they come from different backgrounds, their experiences nevertheless taught them similar values. Both are home-centered, and always focused on making their surroundings like home. They love family, both in the sense of spending time with family and in the sense of eventually starting their own. Both have learned to work hard, and recognize that little will ever be given. Each believes in the power of self-improvement, being just a little bit better the next day than the day before. And each has found in each other a safe place to share emotion and weakness, the ultimate measure of a trust-based relationship.

Lauren and Eric reinforce each other’s civic virtues as well. Those interviewed about Lauren unanimously noted her outspokenness. Aunt Regina observed that “Lauren always stands up for what and who she believes in.” And Aunt Carolyn says that Lauren is “a champion for so many and an amplifier of voices that need to be heard.”

Though she grew up in a conservative church, Lauren sees her activism as a natural extension of her religious belief. She explains that if she wants to assert her own freedom of religion, then other people should be empowered to make decisions about how they live as well. She considers her politics to be about basic fairness: If she wants to marry, then others should be able to choose who they want to marry. Because she believes in God, she believes others have the right not to do so. There is, as she puts it, no commandment to vote Republican.

Eric credits Lauren with engaging him in politics. Though not particularly politically interested growing up, Eric still had a strong sense of right and wrong. He remembers being with his sister and overhearing someone they both knew disparaging gay marriage. Eric’s sister, a lesbian, began to cry, a moment Eric has never forgotten. Eric thus treats the political as personal, with a focus on respecting the individual. Unsurprisingly, he attended his first protest rally last month.

Lauren and Eric agree on many things, but they diverge on an interesting, somewhat fundamental, question of human nature. Eric naturally loves people and believes that a person is good until proven otherwise.12For the record, this is a decided departure from the editorial position of this platform.

Lauren, on the other hand, believes that human beings generally seek power over others, and that this tendency is inherently corrupting.13This is completely the position of this platform, perhaps not coincidentally. And yet even where Lauren and Eric’s differences are greatest, they pose no threat. Each agrees that the other’s position is moderating—Eric has Lauren so he is not taken advantage of, and Lauren has Eric to remind her that maybe not everyone has malign intent.14After due consideration, this page’s editorial position has not changed..

In that vein, those that have been around Eric and Lauren observe that they “get” each other. They laugh when they are together. Others observed that Lauren and Eric work as a team, respect and enjoy each other, and enjoy learning together. Of course, these are the touchstones of any maturing relationship.

But the deeper relationships—the ones that last—never stop exploring the forest of “us.”15Analogy offered by Uncle Bry Dunkle, Carolyn’s husband. While some destinations will be highly-traveled and understood, the best relationships will find new terrain—much of it simple, beautiful and entirely unexplored. And when the rough patches come, as they certainly will, the resulting lessons learned will be profound in their own right.

Melinda, Eric’s mom, says she knew from her first meeting with Lauren that she was the one for Eric. She remembers that when Lauren left the room for a few minutes, she asked Eric about the state of their relationship. He told her “I don’t know. We will probably run out of things to talk about eventually and go our own way.” She didn’t believe it then, and she definitely doesn’t believe it now.

The forest is vast, and there’s a lifetime to explore it. Any time someone finds a partner for the journey is a cause for celebration. And when the partners seem as well-suited as these two—well, one can’t help but hope they find what they’re looking for.

7 thoughts on “Gollum And Little E: A Love Story

  1. I loved learning more about these two wonderful people! Iii’m so glad they found each other!

  2. This is wonderful, Steven. Thank you for creating this beautiful tribute to these two amazing kids!

  3. A love letter from a parent. Reading this makes me feel like the world out there is a hopeful place. So sweet.

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