Being identified as the mother of Nate for the past two weeks has set me thinking about mothers—having one, being one. My own mother died several years ago. I still work at making my peace with her. It’s not been easy to admit my likeness to her. Her circle for life seemed so tiny as I was growing up in a very small village in southeastern Idaho. Nate knew my Mom. She probably had better luck teaching him to do needle work than she did me. Recently I’ve been typing my Mom’s autobiography and her journals onto the computer, so I can make them available to her extended family. And I can honestly say at this point: I do hope I’m my mother’s daughter. (And my aunt’s niece.) How unique is my experience?
I’ve been struck by how much of my mom’s life story–and her sister’s–was structured in response to their mother’s story. My mother’s mother married a dashing young farmer in the Salt Lake Temple. His story became a familiar one in the area where I grew up—the Jack Mormon. My mother’s father took up smoking which kept him away from church. My mother’s mother was so dependent on him that his life story constrained her own, in the church and elsewhere. She never learned to drive and so depended on him to take her everywhere. Mostly she stayed at home, on the farm.
My mom learned to drive horses and the car when little more than a girl so she could drive her mother. My mom and her sister were always very close to each other, and they were very close to their mother. But both sisters became fiercely independent in their own ways—very much because of the mother they loved.
They didn’t want to be like her. Both went away to two years of college (unheard of for most men, let alone women in that time and place), both became school teachers , both taught full time when their own children were still little and in school. As I look back now, I see with increasing pride the independence they won in response to their mom’s helplessness. I can also see that it was this same independence led them down two divergent paths when it came to the church. My mom was sad that her mother’s dependence kept her so many times on the periphery of things in the church. So my mom was always absolutely faithful, in the center, no matter where her family was. Her sister was the converse version of independence– the thrice-married, loving, earthy, outrageous Jack Mormon.
Nate offered one version of how he’s made peace with me in a blog he still links to in his Times and Seasons bio: “My mother is a fine and gentle Mormon apostate. As near as I can tell, she long ago lost the faith of her childhood, but the marks of Mormonism are still heavy upon her. Any bitterness she may have once harbored about the Church long ago disappeared, and now she is merely interested. Much of post-Mormon intellectualdom seems to be engaged in a perpetual apologetic for their apostasy. I can understand why they do it, but I find it a bit boring. However, I think that there are a lot of ex-Mormons who fall into my mother’s category. They are informed (if I can use such a loaded word on this blog…), often interesting, and ultimately harmless.”
For the most part, I can make my peace with this (though as I’ve discussed in my blogs here on Times and Seasons, I do feel a continuity with my Mormonism that isn’t captured in terms such as “post-Mormon” or “ex-Mormon”). I kind of like “apostate”–it’s both extreme and affectionate.
I do, however, pause over these phrases: “merely interested” and “ultimately harmless.” I definitely wouldn’t want these on my tombstone. Happily, Nathan and I can continue our conversations—which as you imagine can be exciting (and excited) ones. But I do think that discussions about the church that happen across that perceived divide of within/without too often are conceived in terms of danger and harm–I’ve blogged about this on Times and Seasons as well. (Perhaps I should just take it as a complement that I do no harm.)
My daughter Sarah always insists that Nate and I are much more alike than she and I are. Could that possibly be true? And how much of these autobiographical ramblings (both mine and Nate’s) are about something you recognize?