Mary wasn’t Catholic,but the rule was you did not tell her mother that. Neither did anyone in the neighborhood go out of their way to mention Mary’s occasional lesbian lover to her mother. Plenty of people did, however, go out of their way to avoid mentioning it.
Fortunately or unfortunately, for whatever it was worth, Mary was not one of those people.
She did not avoid mentioning her preference for women at the bowling alley, where she and her mother both played on ladies’ league during the deep winter season. Nor did Mary go out of her way to avoid talking about her resolute queerness at the nail salon, where they both took their regular mani-pedi’s, quite often scheduling them together. She was not squeamish about reminding them at the service station where she and her mother both took their vehicles for oil changes. Mary had even once brought a date, a woman from the nearby city, to the local tavern for beers and pinball after a weekend of camping and hiking.
It seemed the only place in town Mary never once mentioned being a lesbian was at church, mostly because she hadn’t set foot in the place in over ten years.
Regardless, you never discussed her daughter’s lack of religion with Estelle, Mary’s mother. It might not seem like such an significant oversight, except that Estelle was always, loudly, keeping track of everyone’s religion. Not that there was that much to keep track of. Everyone in town was either Catholic or Public, Catholic or Protestant, those were they only major denominations represented. But in Estelle’s mind, there was a clear, church-by-church social structure based on congregational membership.
A structure impossible to relay without unintentionally offending someone. If not one of the Unitarians, then surely the Lutherans, or the United Church of Christ folks or undoubtedly the Baptists and the First Congregational Fundamentalists. Dunkers, dribblers, sprinklers but no Jews or Muslims that was for sure, not in Estelle’s town.
Whatever Estelle’s official pecking order was, one thing was undeniable as far as she was concerned: Catholics were morally and in every other way superior to all other denominations. Furthermore, the good, rule-following, ritual adhering, volunteering to maintain Perpetual Adoration shifts Catholics were clearly the very best people in every imaginable way.
Apparently, monumental powers of denial also afforded you bonus points on Estelle’s scale, and in this arena, she herself excelled. However, she never seemed, even once, to fathom a single reason to extend the harsh judgments she applied to all others, including herself, to her daughter. It simply never crossed Estelle’s mind. Mary was totally exempt.
For her part, this seemed to infuriate Mary, who hated her own unintended “passing” more than anything. She hated being considered one of the good, God-fearing, faithful almost as much as she loathed being mistaken for straight.
I met Mary’s best friend in a photography course we both took through the local parks department. He told me it was her one pet peeve in all the world. Passing as heterosexual, he said, drove Mary crazy. I guessed this was why she was so open, even in her mother’s presence, about her love-life. He agreed. I wondered out loud, then, if she might settle down now, with the laws changed. It seemed to me she might like to settle the whole matter once and for all by getting married to a woman. He shook his head vehemently, and grinned, more or less sheepishly, at me.
"Naw," he said. "She won’t do that."
"How can you be so sure?" I yelled at his back as he left me standing in the parking lot outside the community center.
He ran off ahead of me, then, to catch up with his wife, who was taking a drawing class on the same night. He put his arm around her shoulders as he came up behind her, then turned back to answer me. “Mary won’t marry a woman because she’s in love with me,” he said.
I saw them all together once about a year after that. I saw them from a distance at the July Fireworks Celebration. Mary was with him and his wife, she was sitting on a blanket bouncing their infant daughter on her lap while they wandered nearby, holding hands and laughing. I could see by the look on Mary’s face that what he had said was true.