Monday, January 16, 2017

52 questions | Why my name?

a continuation of  52 questions | name game?

Mary Luella, Marilyn, Janice
My mother named me for the women of her family.  For her sisters Marilyn and Janice and her beloved grandmother Mary Luella and for Mary Luella's mother Mary Ann.  When I sign my name or say it, or hear others call me by that name, I hear those other names echoing in it.  And perhaps that is why my mother chose to name me so.   

I remember (did you ever do this?) lying on my bed when I was supposed to be taking a nap and saying my name over and over to myself, thinking about the boundaries my name laid out for me.  Who I could be.  What I had in me.  Where I could choose to be going.

Janice with my mother
Maybe I would be like Janice, good and gentle and very smart, who listened, who bent down with her soft eyes to talk right to people's faces and who sent tiny little letters in the mail that were barely big enough to hold a stamp.  She had a silvery-warm voice that made people calm and she became a pediatrician which probably was what all older sisters did, also she laughed with her lips together which was a skill I would sometimes try to practice to see how it was done. She lived in Bowling Green with a wooden screen door that slammed satisfyingly and  outside there were fireflies and the soft sense of rain all summer long and then she moved to Seattle which seemed like a very nice idea because there she had raspberries growing over a wooden fence near her house and a dirt road nearby with daisies and her bearlike bearded husband barbecued salmon while her interesting, soft-spoken children read Superman comic books that told the original backstory on the planet of Krypton.  

Marilyn with my mother
Or what if I could be like Marilyn, outrageously funny and never afraid, friends with everyone all over the world in all the different places that she lived, who made the light in the room brighter the moment she came in.  She could do an impression of a lighthouse and of an eggbeater and she sang better than anyone, plus she had beautiful long fingers with pretty nails.  When I was little I thought she was going to marry a tiger (Taggart) which seemed rather daring but pretty exciting.  That was the same year Santa came to visit a park near where I lived (maybe it was Highland Park) in a helicopter and tossed candy and prizes down.  I couldn't catch one which was disappointing but then she found a real elf who gave her a candy cane and she didn't eat it herself but brought it to me.  She painted murals and portraits of her children who were all boys (at that point) and all funny and fearless and she was also an artist who made things out of clay like dolls that weren't to play with but were old ladies sitting on a bench with stockings down around their ankles feeding birds out of the wrinkled cup of their hands.  And when she and my mother got together they would laugh so hard they would begin to cry.

Mary Luella with my mother
Maybe I couldn't do that life all the way though, because I was awfully quiet and got embarrassed, but how about Mary Luella, who was the heart of love and so everyone loved her?  She grew up in Old Mexico where it was so hot they kept their milk in a large crock inside the well and once she bent down to sip up some cream but the tip of the lavender bow on her dress dipped into the crock and she couldn't figure out how her mother knew she had stolen it.  But she became honest later though she was so poor even before they were chased back to the United States and once when she went into the big city of Colonia Juarez there was a beautiful pair of silk stockings at the store, just out on the counter without a shopkeeper standing guard.  Her friend told her they were free samples and though she didn't completely believe her she snatched a pair and took them home -- but then when she wore them to church she felt terrible and could never wear them again, which seemed a hopeful kind of story of attainable virtue that was something I could do.  On the other hand she was so industrious when she grew up and married a railroad man that she went out and swept her grassless yard every morning until she could get flowers growing and she was so clean and so good at fixing things that the landlords over and over could raise the rent much higher than she could afford to pay after she lived there just a little while.  But I thought it might be nice to learn to play the harmonica so when my grandchildren came to visit me I could sit up in bed if they were scared with my knees making a tent of the sheets and play "How Great Thou Art" with a lonely but comforting sound.

Mary Ann with her daughter Mary Luella (lower right)

And her mother Mary Ann was very brave and good at helping her mother, which I was, too.  When she was an eight-year old she and her parents and brothers and sisters pushed a handcart across the plains to their new mountain home.  Her mother whose name was Eliza became snowblind from looking at the snow for so many hours and so Mary Ann held her mother's hand and helped her walk along the path and never stopped.  She was a little girl but stubborn enough to survive even when her father died after he caught a cold while guarding their camp at night and then it became pneumonia and they had to bury him in frozen ground so hard they had to chop at it to make a hole.   I wasn't sure when I would have a chance to be exactly that brave but I did like to walk and I would like holding my mom's hand if she needed me to, all day long while we walked along and walked and walked until we came to the valley-O.

These were good names, the names of my mothers and my mother's sisters.   Names I could live into.

Mary the mother
And further back there was also Mary the mother of Jesus who was always reading books in her pictures, if she wasn't taking care of her little child.  She knew how to be quiet and though her life was hard and sometimes frightening she heard angels sing and was as brave as my grandmothers to travel as far as was needed, whenever she had to.  

Martha and her sister Mary 
And Mary Magdalene who liked learning things and didn't like to do the dishes, but Jesus loved her anyway and she loved him, too, and washed his feet with her hair and was brave enough to face the soldiers and come back with her sweet-smelling spices to take care of his body and so she got to be the first to see him walking in the garden outside his tomb.  I heard those Marys' stories, too, and they seemed to be part of my name and part of the same family whose stories I heard from my mother, snuggling under the blanket as she sat on the side of my bed or eavesdropping on her side of phone conversations with her mother or listening at the table as my mother and her sisters talked and laughed until they cried.

Marilyn, my mom, Janice, their brother Dex
My mother was the middle sister and I always felt that my name was a valentine she made for the sisters she loved and had to leave to become my mother, for her grandma who died a little while before I was born.  A little birthday candle my mother shone back into the place she stepped out of when she broke out of her natal home to start the home that would be mine.  A little flower she planted beside the bridge to scent both sides of divide, saying to the mothers up ahead, "Here is another one of us," and saying to me, "Hurry.  You can catch up.  You belong right over here with us."




10 comments:

NWG said...

What a delight! (But I need to retell the story of the stockings to you...she was a teenaged girl and Did keep the stockings. There is more). I realize now why grandma told me these stories over and over - so I would remember them and pass them on.

Emma J said...

Okay, Mom, better spill. What's the real story of the stockings?

NWG said...

I wish we could all sit in a circle together and share stories. I have added most of grandma's stories to her history submitted by my cousin to family search. Don't know if I included the stocking story or the lavender dress story. I'll have to check.

Emma J said...

Oh it was lavender velvet, wasn't it? I'd forgotten.

NWG said...

No, not velvet. Grandma never had anything velvet in her life. It was just lavender, her favorite. I am not certain if it was a solid color or a calico. Grandma had only two dresses as a child/young woman. One was newer, for Sunday. The other was old for everyday. When the newer one got in sad shape, as soon as money could be found for new fabric a new one would be made for Sunday and the older Sunday dress became the everyday dress. The good bits of the old everyday dress were used for quilt scraps, other parts for braided rugs and rags. One day she saw a bolt of lavender cloth at the little general store in town and thought it was so beautiful, not off white like her other dresses. It wasn't quite time for a new one, but her mother sold butter and eggs to get the fabric and made the dress. It was delightful...until the first washing. Then it was off white like all the others.

Emma J said...

Poor Grandma! Tell me the story of the silk stockings.

NWG said...

Okay. She was a young woman when a friend's father was going to make a day trip to the Big city of Colonia Juarez and she and her friend were invited to go along. They had no money but enjoyed looking at the sights. They went into a dry goods store and she was amazed to see counters with merchandise displayed. The only store she had seen before was the little general store in Colonia Diaz. It had a counter with a salesperson in attendance. You would stand in line and then tell the salesperson what you wanted and she/he would get it for you. Nothing was displayed on the counter.

So she expressed surprise to her friend at the silk stockings lying on the store counter in Juarez. Her friend assured that they were free and took some. Grandma followed suit feeling very uncomfortable as she quickly and furtively grabbed two stockings and stuffed them in her bag.
Although one of them was snagged and they didn't match, she wore them to church the next Sunday only to be horrified to hear a speaker tell about his fears for the wayward youth of their town. "And would you believe that some of our young women have stolen stockings from the stores in Colonia Juarez?" She wanted to melt into the ground and could hardly wait to scurry home where she removed the stockings and hid them in the back of her drawer. Sometime later her mother found them and mended the damaged one, but Grandma never wore them again.

Emma J said...

I remember that story now :) -- and have revised mine. You really do need to tell us every story you can remember. Thank you for telling them to me then and now!

Emma J said...

Was the ribbon that dipped into the cream velvet? Or did I imagine that?

NWG said...

No, it was just cotton. With a dribble of cream.

You are welcome. I wonder what stories my cousins or siblings were told. I recall that none of the siblings were there when she told the stories. I loved sitting and listening to them although my mother sometimes shook her head over the retelling...sometimes more than once in one visit. It was probably the only time I sat quietly, so that may have been why I heard the stories.

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