As I have mentioned previously, I am of mixed religious and ethnic heritage. My mother was raised in a devout mainline Protestant family. Her six uncles, her grandfather, her great grandfather, and her great-great-grandfather were ministers. Most of her cousins became ministers or missionaries. At 18, circa 1958, my mother was herself engaged to a young man who was about to enter a seminary (a seminary which was founded by her great-great-grandfather).
One day, my mother, without telling anyone, responded to an advertisement for a secretarial job in a far away city. When she was hired, she broke off her engagement and told her parents that she was moving out of the house to a city hundreds of miles away. My mother's parents were up in arms, of course, but there was nothing they could do.
My mother says that at the time her decision resulted from "a single moment of clarity." She woke up one morning knowing that she was not cut out to be a preacher's wife. In retrospect, however, she says that, although she never exactly admitted it to herself, she never appreciated the social norms imposed on her. Outwardly, by the standards of her time and place, she was the perfect model of young womanhood. Inwardly, she resented the fact that the family's college tuition funds were reserved for her brother (who was, unlike her, an indifferent student) and she was always skeptical of her family's belief system. Even now, she is not very respectful of Christianity. She associates it with hypocrisy and with men telling women how to be. She especially dislikes Paul and Proverbs 31.
Other than my mother's departure from home, she never broke out of the gender norms with which she was raised. She relished the single life for a full twelve years, during which she worked, shared apartments with various girlfriends, traveled throughout Europe, dated, and had fun. But she always expected to become primarily a wife and mother by the end of her 20s and so she did. She quit her job upon marriage and I was born a year later.
Despite my mother's scorn for Proverbs 31 (which she can recite by heart!), she actually was the ideal Proverbs 31 woman when I was growing up. She was truly a marvelous homemaker. She was very frugal, yet we always had the best of everything. The house was always spotless, and there was a fabulous meal on the table every night. I had wonderful clothes which my mother made from patterns. My mother performed back breaking manual labor in the fields, landscaping our two acre property, mowing the whole thing with a push-lawn mower, and creating and maintaining a fabulous vegetable and flower garden. She also kept herself fit and trim by long distance running, and she was always beautifully dressed even for mundane errands like grocery shopping. People used to ooh and aah at how glamorous and beautiful my mother was.
My mother was also a great teacher to me. She didn't purposely set out to push me in any kind of formal way, but she made learning fun. I loved it when she read to me, and I begged her to teach me how to read. She was extremely patient with me as I tried to sound out the words, but the payoff came when I suddenly "got it." Once I became a fluent reader, we frequently read chapter books out loud to each other, alternating chapter by chapter. We read Heidi, A Child's History of England by Charles Dickens, The Children's Crusade by Geoffrey Trease, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, and Dracula, among others.
After school, if we weren't reading, we often played board games or danced around to music (I remember Kenny Rogers's "The Gambler" in particular). My mother also imbued me with her aesthetic sense -- I developed an early appreciation for Elizabethan music, the Beatles, Joan Baez, hymns by Martin Luther, medieval woodcuts, Audrey Hepburn (her fashion and her movies), and the King James Bible, among various other things she liked.
My mother and I have never once had a fight, nor do I recall her ever speaking sharply to me, except on a couple of occasions after which she apologized to me (and I to her because the sharp language was clearly warranted). I always wanted to please her.
My mother was perceived by the larger community as "a perfect lady" (in the words of one of my teachers). My mother's near perfection would have been unbearable, but for another wonderful aspect of her personality: my mother is one of the most irreverent people I have ever met. Most people don't know this but, in the privacy of home, she swears with relish and often with great wit. She also has a talent for great, Dorothy Parker-like zingers. Whenever I recounted something nasty someone said to me, she would always have the perfect comeback right away. The fact that her irreverence is so unexpected from someone of her ladylike exterior makes it all the funnier. She can invariably make me laugh so hard I can't control myself.
I started off this entry musing about the impact my Protestant heritage may have had on me, but somehow this entry turned into a tribute to my mother. I will say that I think my roots, stemming from a midwestern minister's family, have imbued me, via my mother, with a "nice girl" persona that I have never quite been able to shake. I used to get upset if a date compared me to Donna Reed, or if someone assumed I would be offended by a dirty joke. But in my maturity, I have resigned myself to my "niceness," and have learned to think of it as an aspect of myself that connects me to my mother, despite the differences in our life histories.
(UPDATE: I should point out that I do not share my mother's lack of respect for Christianity. Although I am not Christian, I understand the theology and I am able to separate the theology from the less desirable aspects of my mother's upbringing.)