At first I thought she was looking for someone who was standing behind me, the way she kept leading with her chin towards my right shoulder to talk into my ear. "Did you get your Masters?" Oh, it's me you're addressing...Yes, I did. "What school did you go to?" Brigham Young University, in Utah. "I thought so--I remember you from the listserv. And then when I saw you were drinking a Coke, I knew it was you. See, I grew up Mormon."
But -- it was obvious from the way she was shouting towards my ear like we were inside the crowded bar instead on the outside porch, and the cigarette in her right hand-- she did not grow up to be a Mormon. "I know the culture you're coming from." I see; that's great. She told her name, and how it was a "typically Mormon name" and everyone at EFY had a name like hers and how she almost went to BYU, but something didn't work out, but she wanted to hear about the English department there. I loved it, but I was in rhetoric, of course. "We should talk sometime." That would be nice; we could have lunch. We should chat. "Don't worry, I'm not going to try to make you smoke a cigarette or anything." Ah, thank you. We'll be sure to talk.
I should have said something like, "And I'll try not to make you come back to church," which might have been witty. Glad I didn't, though, because I can't promise that I won't. I was going home at the time, granted, and she was a couple of beers into happy hour, also granted, but she did scare me just a little. I'm scared of becoming someone who "grew up Mormon" and while I believed her assertion that she wouldn't force me into smoking ("Inhale! Inhale, curse you!"), I wasn't sure that she didn't want to chat with me in order to tell me that the LDS Church was patriarchal and oppressive and narrow-minded, etc. Not that I can't handle a little criticism, but I'm not eager to set a dinner date for it, either. I'd rather just talk about things other than my religion with most of my fellow scholars.
Except as I got home and finished writing a postcard of the Prodigal Son for a student of mine serving a mission that I began to think less on the defensive. She sought me out. Maybe she wants a pretext to preach at me, but maybe she wants a pretext to have me preach. Maybe she wants to have a connection to something that used to (maybe) be important to her. Maybe she just misses being around Mormons. I don't know. I am, though, pretty sure she's not terribly fascinated in the departmental workings of our English program. Why assume the negative, as another slightly loose colleague had pointed out in another context. Instead of always assuming that everyone's rolling their eyes and preparing the tar-and-feathers, why can't I be as comfortable talking about my background as a Mormon as I am talking about my background as a part-Swede, or a comedian, or a rhetorician? Not everyone is waiting to pounce.