December 23 – New name. Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?
My first choice would be Eulalia. However, the name of my great aunt usually causes people to wrinkle their noses and ask “Eu-what?” And forget asking other people to spell it! I love the name, though. It has always had a particular musical quality that I love. I have been forbidden by my mother to name any children after her lest they be tormented throughout their grade school years. Aunt Eulalia was my father’s favorite aunt because, being a teacher, she was always a big supporter of his education. He used to recall her helping him with long division and the encouragement she gave him to pursue his aspiration of becoming a physician. She was also a very beautiful woman whose body language and elegant stature commanded respect. Sometimes, I imagine having a little shop that sells homemade jams and breads and even yarn and I would call it “Sweet Eulalia’s” after her.
My second choice would be Marie. Marie is my middle name. I am named after both of my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother was also Susanne Marie and my paternal grandmother was Marie Frances. My father had a habit of calling me “Marie” when I was in a bossy mood and reminded him of his mother. According to family lore, Marie was one helluva lady and even kind of crazy in her later years. Just this weekend, an auntie of mine told us of how, when she went to the cemetery to visit family, she would look and the ground and mutter “You SOB’s! All you left for me was arthritis!”. She was quite overprotective of my father and tried her darndest to keep him out of harm’s way, not allowing him to go ice skating or swimming or walk on the same side of the street as a funeral parlor or cemetery. She had all sorts of quirky beliefs, one of the most notable being that soaking in the same tub of water you used to cook corn would make your skin soft and silky. She was fond of scrubbing my father raw in an old washtub full of corn water with a generous bar of Octagon soap. She was an intelligent woman who had aspired to be a seamstress and attend the Pratt Institute, but segregation kept her from realizing that dream. I like to think that my acerbic wit probably comes from her as she was pretty much known for speaking her mind quite plainly. Family members describe her as a pistol and she was most certainly a woman before her time. I probably get a good deal of my “domestic” interests like sewing, knitting, baking, canning, and cooking from my maternal grandmother who raised 5 kids in Chicago and surrounding suburbs in the 50’s. She made most if not all of my mother’s clothes, though my mother drew the line at a homemade bathing suit one year. She also produced fantastic meals on a shoestring budget and kept the family entertained with her piano-playing.
Interestingly enough, I never knew any of these women as they died either before I was born or shortly thereafter. Their names are special to me, though, because they are names I hear frequently in family get-togethers where we hoot and holler over funny stories about Grandma ‘Ree and Auntie ‘Lalia. My father’s mother always wanted a baby girl in the worst way and I’ve grown up hearing how thrilled she would have been to see me come up in the world. I like to think there is a little bit of each of these women in me.