I KNOW Shakespeare didn’t have it right. A rose by any other name isn’t a rose.
We were on a bus going cross-city to somewhere or another. I was seven years old and my brothers, the twins, were six. Mother had the questionable judgement of having three children just a couple of weeks outside of a year. Virtual triplets. I never got to hold her hand. “I have only two hands and they are for the boys! Now, keep up!”
The boys were squirming and I was trying to sink down deeper into the sparse upholstery. Best not to be too noticeable. Best to be quiet. The boys didn’t have such an internal disciplinarian. They were boys, they were allowed to be noisy. “Mama!” clamoured one. “Mama!” added the other. “When are you going to get us a Daddy?”
I could see the back of the man’s head in the front of us. He’d heard the boys and found some amusement there. His shoulders moved up and down. Mother hadn’t seen. She had her eyes closed and a hand caressed her forehead. Another headache. I knew the signs. “Oh,” she sighed, mildly exasperated. “I can’t find one. Maybe you should find us a Daddy.”
My alert system went into overdrive but it was too late. One of the boys leaned over the top of the seat in front of us and sweetly demanded of the man in front of us, “Mister, Mister, will you be our Daddy?”
The man smiled kindly at the boys “I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t. I’m already someone’s Daddy.”
Mother sank down as far as she could then rallied enough to try the charm offensive. She was good at charm. She smiled and dimpled and apologized prettily. We got off at the next stop, miles away from where we lived but walking was better than remaining and continuing to wallow in humiliation.
“Hurry up!” she groused at me, trailing behind and feeling cut out of the circle of three that she and the boys made together. “You are as slow as a seven year itch!”
I had no idea what she meant but I understood the tone clearly enough. I tried to hurry as they trotted down the road. “I do wish I had a Daddy.” I thought. “Then he could hold my hand.”
Mother worked at the Army Corps of Engineers office in St Johns, just North of Portland along the Willamette River. Her mellifluous voice soothed the radio operators on board the ships she spoke to all up and down the coast. She’d been ‘Betty Co-ed’ for Oregon State University’s radio station so she knew how to use her instrument. She talked with one first officer on board an ocean-going hopper dredge, purposely charming and flirting with him. Impressed by his deep voice, she conjured an image of a tall, dark-haired man with broad shoulders and piercing blue eyes. She thought ‘So what if he’s married. It’s just a bit of harmless fun.’
Mother wasn’t adverse to a ‘bit of harmless fun’. She’d proved that twice over but that is another story.
Finally, after talking with him for several weeks there came an opportunity to meet him. She had to deliver some papers to the ship and came down to the dock herself rather than sending a courier. The meeting was a spur of the moment thing and she hadn’t dressed in anything special that morning. “I had on a dirndl skirt and a peasant blouse topped with a sweater. I’d worn my hair down, I didn’t have any makeup on and I must have looked about fourteen. I was so embarrassed!”
He wasn’t married. He’d been divorced for a couple of years and had a young son that he didn’t see much. He was very tall. He had piercing blue eyes under heavy dark brows but he had little to no hair. Oh well! “I felt like a little girl beside him,” she told me.
A week or so later she engineered a meeting with him and she wore a knitted sheath that hugged her suggestively, full make-up and her hair up in a sophisticated French Twist. They fell in love and were married just a month after their first in-person meeting. Early in the New Year Mr J became our ‘Daddy’.
Mother immediately set about making us into an ‘intact’ family. The first thing to go was our name. Without legal adoption, which might have been problematic for several reasons, Mother determined that we would simply ‘act as if’ and just take Mr J’s name. He was already ‘Daddy’. He became that the moment he said ‘I do’.
Grandmother and Grandfather sold the family house to Mr J for $1. It was the wedding present from two very relieved parents to the man who was (finally!) making ‘an honest woman’ out of their wayward daughter. The house was eventually sold to finance Mother’s dream house but meanwhile it became the home of the J’s and we all acted as if it had always been the home of the J’s and we’d always been the J’s.
Mother gave me the task of telling the Principal of our school that our name had been changed. I was eight by then. The experience was traumatic and ugly. The Principal screamed at me that I couldn’t do that and told me he was calling my mother. He made it seem that it was my ‘stupid idea’ and an illegal one at that and that I should be thrown in jail. I was too traumatized even to cry. That’s when I first became fully aware of the name I was born with and I was surprised to realize I wanted to keep it. But it was too late. Mother had to have her way. We all had to be named the same, more to fool herself I think, than to fool the world.
Names have the power to change who we are and I was suddenly someone else. I felt the world shift under my feet. It was the moderate tremor that was premonitory of the catastrophic quake inevitably coming but I didn’t know that yet.
End of Part II — Final Part III to follow