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."




Saturday, January 7, 2017

2016: a year in books



This wasn't much of a year for reading.  During the school year, work took all my time and filled all my mind.  And the moment school was out, I was either in and out of hospital rooms and arranging home health solutions for my mother-in-law, or scrubbing and repainting an old house that had to be sold, or out-of-state scouring the countryside for a new house.

When I did read it was to reread the familiars like Georgette Heyer  and Barbara Pym, which I did, over and over.  These landscapes at least hadn't changed.  Excellent Women and Less than Angels by Pym and The Grand Sophy and Frederica by Heyer are such reliable delights.  There must be a special place in heaven for the authors whose books bring such comfort in times of confusion and pain.

The few other memorable books I read this year were a comfort in other ways:

The Forest Garden Greenhouse: How to Design and Manage an Indoor Permaculture Oasis 
Jerome Osentowski, 304 pg.  
As it became increasingly clear that we would be moving to a colder climate, the idea of a greenhouse became more and more appealing.  This book has plans for building a greenhouse with a climate battery -- storing geothermal heat in the ground and letting it release into the air of the greenhouse when it gets cold.


High and Dry: Gardening with Cold-hardy Dryland Plants
Robert Nold, 420 pg.
Obviously.  I saw this book on the shelf of a local library during my house search (house search for me always includes checking out the library).  It's a bit exhausting to think of the time and money I'm going to be expending in the near future on this green-thumb habit of mine. But I do love looking at plants that will be able to survive in my new garden.


The Luck Uglies
Paul Durham, 316 pg.
I came across this book at the St Helens library while chaperoning a service project there for our Achievement Day girls. The story is fun and inventive. The later sequels don't live up to expectations, but this one was an enjoyable read.

A Man Called Ove
Fredrik Backman, 337 pg.
No wonder this book is on everyone's list this year.  I picked it up to read while flying out with my mother-in-law to get her settled in a new apartment and to continue looking at houses for ourselves.  This book gave me hope to continue as I followed angry Ove's climb up out of despair and into life once more.  I loved his feisty new neighbor, the very pregnant Parvaneh, especially.  And the slow unfolding of Ove's backstory made sense of his pain as a poignant counterpoint to the redemptive unknotting of the plot.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Chris Cleave, 432 pg.
Honestly, I decided to read this book because its cover reminded me of All the Light We Cannot See.  While not nearly so incandescent as that book was, this was a book of blind perseverance which I needed, as I read it the first week in my new house, facing the reality (which though not at all dire is still reality with all its attendant unbudgeability).  Unlike All the Light this novel is just usual.  The expected tropes, the expected plot twists -- though there are a few moments that still live in my memory months after the reading -- particularly the point where the beautiful main character is saved from drowning by her ambulance-nurse best friend.  Come to think of it, the friendship between Mary North and her less beautiful chainsmoking friend Hilda was far more engaging to me than either of the romances. (As was the relationship between Tom and his army buddy.) I believe I would have liked to have Hilda's story rather than Mary's and certainly I wanted to see more of the interaction between Hilda and Mary -- especially since Hilda is the only one who isn't bowled over and controlled by Mary's beauty.  But it was good to read of survival, even if soppily delivered.


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Laura Hillenbrand, 473 pg.
This book on the other hand is the real deal.  I had begun the book early last year and had flipped through the end (because with my level of anxiety at the time I couldn't bear to read it if it was going to end too badly) -- I should have just read the subtitle, because the bits I read at the end were sad and hard enough that I decided I couldn't bear it.  Which is just as well -- I needed it more right now, when because of an invitation to a book group I had to read it.  A great, true story of a brave man whose innate cussed courage and physical hardiness in the war are outshone only by his powerful forgiveness and embrace of peace when the war is over.  Hillenbrand is a great researcher and an even greater storyteller.
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