When the Keller children were young, Manti had a population of some 2000 (the population now is about 3000). “It was really quite an artistic town,” Mrs. Higbee said. “We had great teachers. We also had very capable musicians that retreated to Utah in the summertime. One was a teacher in a boy’s private school in New York, and he taught piano students and did a masterful job at that. Then there was another gentleman that taught school in Santa Barbara and came back with his family and gave vocal lessons to a whole bunch of people. So we had a lot of good basics as far as the arts go.
“Manti’s economy,” Mrs. Higbee said, “was primarily based on farming and livestock — sheep and cattle. And our father was obviously in that line of work. But we didn’t grow up on a farm. In Utah it’s different from most places; the people were encouraged to live in organized communities and then go out to your farms. That’s what our family did. We had wonderful parents. They were very loving and caring, and they loved each other very much. I think that’s a great gift for children.”
Karl and their mother, Mrs. Higbee said, “identified very closely. Karl was quite sickly. He had measles, and my mother was afraid he was going to die. She had me sit beside his bed to be sure he kept breathing while she did housework and cooking. Karl got out of doing the heavy farmwork that the other boys were required to do. He was very frail physically but made up for it with mental capabilities. He was quite an independent young man. I think he read more than I realized, and he was always writing plays. Being the oldest, you know, as I was, you’re always caught up in your own life, and I can’t remember exactly.
“Karl was an achiever. He went to the University of Utah and was editor of the school yearbook in his junior year and editor of the school paper in his senior year. He was a counselor to a bishop while he was a university student. He was also involved in the musical aspect of services. He sang beautifully. He had a marvelous voice.
“He went on a Mormon mission to Germany. He was in many places, but among them was Dresden. He was probably 19 when he went, so that would have been early in the 1950s. There was a gentleman from Dresden that liked Karl so well. He went and bought a complete dinner set for Karl with Karl’s initials. His wife has the remainder of that.”
“Were you surprised when your brother declared himself homosexual?”
“Not really. I didn’t think much about it. Karl was just Karl. I felt bad that his gayness was difficult for his children, but they’ve all survived. Karl encouraged them all to go to the university, and they’re okay now, I think. I know with Ruth, his wife, there’s no bitterness. She was with him almost every day while he was deteriorating.”
“Were your parents alive when Karl died?”
“No, they were both gone. My sister and my two brothers and I came out for his funeral.”
I talked several days later, via telephone, with Karl’s brother Ray Keller, born in 1928. (Someone who knew the Kellers well said, “Ray was hard on Karl, I am sure, because he’s a real guy’s guy.” Another person said that Karl, angry with Ray over a family matter, mailed to Ray an envelope filled with his, Karl’s, excrement.)
Ray Keller sounded like a real guy’s guy, and he also sounded pleasant. He echoed his sister, Mrs. Higbee, saying, “Our father was in the farming business, and we were always actively engaged in helping on the farm. Karl didn’t particularly like to be engaged in that hard, hard work. He was more intellectual than the rest of us. He took violin lessons and saxophone lessons and piano lessons. And he was always reading.”
I had looked at photographs of the LDS temple in Manti, built, as I learned from Joyce Eliason’s novel, with oolite. I asked Ray Keller how many stories high the temple was. “Four,” he said, “plus a basement.” As to why the temple was white, he said, “To signify purity. Cleanliness. Isn’t white pure?”
Ray Keller was shocked when his brother declared himself a gay man. “Shocked to death. Our mother and father would have turned over in their graves. But, you know, it’s that culture. I call it ‘the culture of people that are involved in the intellectual idiot syndrome.’ You can quote me as saying that, if you’d like. ‘The intellectual idiot syndrome.’ ”
Would he have thought, when they were boys, that Karl was homosexual?
“No. No. I thought he was more intellectual and into books and music and stuff. But that wasn’t even in the thought process when we were kids.”
Ray Keller said his brother, as a Mormon churchman, “was real active. But once he got acquainted with so-called intellects, he kind of drifted off into space. That intellectual idiot syndrome took him over.” As to when this happened, Ray Keller said, “I think he went overboard when he got down to San Diego State, when he got into the liberal area and culture down there.”
Joyce Eliason, who for the past four decades has lived in Southern California, remembered Karl Keller from the earliest days, when they were toddlers. “He was a year older than I was. My earliest memory of Karl is a church event that took place at harvest time, the Green and Gold Ball. I was about four and he was five. He wore a satin outfit, like an usher’s outfit. I was one of the flower girls. Karl was supposed to play a trumpet. I remember that everybody was standing around on the floor of the events hall. The king of the Green and Gold Ball with his attendants was standing in the center of the hall. Karl walked out and went to the middle of the floor to blow his horn, and instead of blowing the horn, he throws it and has some kind of tantrum.”