Willa was an atheist. A self-styled “unschooler,” she attended homeschool conventions and activities with her two children, Alexis (9) and Steven (5), and it was there that she met my mother. Willa’s husband worked in a field that I knew only abstractly as something involving computers and sales. He was a passive, taciturn man with whom I never exchanged a single word. Their children were boisterous, especially Alexis. Willa attached herself to my mother very quickly. Since Alexis was my age, we were an automatic source of play dates, which often really amounted to tea parties for our mothers. Common interests seemed to abound at first: homeschooling, books, and bargains. Both adored flea markets, and Willa’s house sagged under the evidence. But there was no escaping the fact that Willa was an atheist.
Willa quickly became a mission field for my mother and her friends. One by one, they joined my mother in the weekly tea parties and occasional trips to flea markets or homeschool fairs. Soon the “Seal Sisters,” as my father called my mother and her church friends (referring to the seven seals of the book of Revelations), had developed a little circle around Willa. How to deal with the “Willa problem” became a topic of heated debate.