Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Family Values?

SOB and I have been having many a discussion recently on what to name F2. We've decided, changed our minds, rinsed, lathered and repeated more times than I can count. One name that he keeps coming back to is Margret, but I hesitate. For me, a name must have a good shortened alternative, and Maggie, I love. But Margret is my grandmother's name, and that is where my hesitation finds its roots.

I've mentioned before that my dad is one of seven boys. What was left out, and usually is, is that he also has one sister. She comes just before him in age, between my dad and his oldest brother. I'm sure it was rough being the only female in a family of boys, but she was invaluable to my grandmother, from what I hear. The two youngest of my uncles considered her as much as a mother as they did my grandmother. They were truly the most affected when she disappeared one day.

The story changes depending on who you ask, which is probably true of most family dramas. My grandparents never speak of it, or her. Ever. I've heard versions from my father and from several of my uncles, and when boiled down, there are really only two. One account goes that during her junior year of high school, she started dating a black man. My grandparents, deeply racist for reasons I can't begin to comprehend, disowned her when they found out. Finding herself homeless, she married the man. In the other version, when my grandparents found out about her boyfriend, the gave her the choice of leaving him or the family. She chose to leave her family, and stole away into the night with her few belongings. This is the version they told my father and uncles, planting seeds of abandonment and hatred with the younger boys.

All the pictures of her were taken down, possibly destroyed. There was a proclamation that her name would never be mentioned in this household again. It was as though she never existed.

However it went down (I personally buy the first version of the story much more than the second) she did marry the man and eventually had two children with him. All of this was going on while my father was finishing high school. By the time he married my mother, my two cousins T and S had been born. I have a few scant memories of visiting them as a very young child, but apparently my grandfather discovered that some of his boys were in contact with their sister. He promised the same treatment for them if they didn't stop. I didn't see her again until I was in college, although my father and a few of his brothers quietly kept in touch over the years.

She divorced her husband when her children were young. They lived less than a mile from my grandparents. When they were school age, they came to my grandparents' house, and the door was slammed in their faces. My uncle, who had answered the door, was one of the boys led to believe that his sister abandoned him, and took his unresolved anger out on these children.

These children grew to become very accomplished adults. T was a professional football player. S has a PhD from Harvard. All throughout my youth, I was always heralded for being the eldest grandchild, the smartest grandchild, and yet I was neither. When Sam was born, they celebrated their first great-grandchild, but in truth he was their third.

My grandparents are from a different time and place. While that does not excuse their actions, I've often wondered what affect that had on my grandmother's role in this tragedy. It's no secret that in their house, the man rules the roost. There is no doubt in my mind that my grandfather was the one who handed down the verdict all those years ago. The question no one in the family has ever been able to answer is was my grandmother complicit?

Without an answer to that question, I can love her, but I cannot always look at her with respect. Certainly I cannot give my child a namesake that will always remind me of hatred and conflict. SOB understands this, but talking about it so often has stirred emotions in me I wasn't even aware of. I cannot comprehend how anyone could toss their own flesh and blood out like trash, let alone someone who I know is capable of enormous amounts of love.

Part of me wants to give her my aunt's name, Patricia, so that my grandparents will be forced to speak it out loud. So that they can see this tiny, innocent creature and remember my aunt, who was once and still is their child. So that I can look into my grandmother's eyes and know her true heart. But I won't because I'm afraid that I will see, and that it will be ugly and dark.

And so she remains unnamed.

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super des said...

Name her Patricia Margaret. This recognizes both lovely names and their significance, but the name that is causing some consternation is spelled wrong (oops, I mean differently) and "moved to the back." Plus I like the way that name sounds. I can just picture a beautiful little girl come running when you call her by that name.

Lora said...

I have been doing some serious geneological soul searching of my own these days. I'm having a hard time accepting some truths about family members who I have never known to be anything but supportive, loving individuals. No one wants to hear that someone they love has a dark side.

I've got no suggestions, no advice, no nothing other than to say that I know how you are feeling right now and I'm thinking of you.

You and that damn box under my desk that I am rationalizing keeping there until I get to a baby store and find something pink and frilly to put in it. I can blog 47 times a day but don't ask me to run an errand within 4 months time. I suck.

Marketing Mommy said...

Very thoughtfully written. Naming our children after family members can be a minefield. The closest I'll come is honoring those who've passed with a child's name that begins with the same first letter. It's a Jewish tradition.

susan said...

I wish I had something profound for you, something to make this decision easier. Names are tricky, especially when the name in question has a history to it. Which is why LG wound up with a "random" first name and his father's middle name. No history, no signifigance beyond what he brings to his name, and no hurt feelings (which is really my wimpy way of making sure there was no conflict). I do like Des' idea, though... "Patricia Margaret" does have a sweet ring to it!

Anonymous said...

For obvious reasons, Jake's dad prefers the wonderful Patricia. Which gives you an abundance of great names. To have the hatred initially, might be forgivable, given some circumstances. But to hold that hatred over the little kids who grew up to be so accomplished is just tragic. No name can tarnish, make or break a kid. But if it continues to bother you so (and I think it speaks volumes about YOUR great character that it still does), then I would not feel any shame in failing to "reward" and/or "honor" someone who could turn on their own in such a despicable manner.

Perhaps Patricia and then your mother's name or SOB's mother's name for a middle name?

Amy Jo said...

Thank you all for sharing such thoughtful words and suggestions. At this point, we're still up in the air. SOB isn't crazy about the name Patricia, but I think I'm going to ask my dad what my Aunt's middle name is. Knowing my luck, it'll be Margret.

Fidget said...

It amazes me the things people have done in the name of family honor

You could always just use
Maggie, sweet simple and lovely


or you can marry the names, bring them back together by making a new name out of letters from both names.


I love my grandmother deeply but there was always this black spot of sorrow after I found out that she cast out 2 of her own children to remarry and have my mom... she just acted like the others no longer existed and left them with her mother. SHe was a terrible mom but she tried to make up for it with good grandparenting. I cant pretend to understand the politics of the time so that softened my stance but it still fels so ugly to me.