There is a beautiful picture of her in my bathroom. 8 x 10 inches of my baby girl when she is one month old. Laying on a pink quilt made by her Great Aunt Barbara, on top of that is a gorgeous white knit blanket made by our namesake, Olive Gray. She is pulling on the bracelet I wore as a baby and wearing a gold cross bought by her Grandmother. Also around her neck, is a crocheted bib with a blue ribbon. I only let her wear something blue because the boys wore it on their christening day too. They also wore the dress she has on. Everyone wore it for about four hours until Momma changed them into something “more comfortable.” We squabbled about that for “heavens sake Momma,” I said. “they only get to wear their christening dress one day in their whole life.” But she didn’t listen, as usual. She gets really deaf when she wants her way. And believe me, she always wants her way and usually gets it. All three of my children wore play clothes to their christening parties instead of that lovely dress Momma bought the week after my first was born. She just wants them to be comfortable even if that makes me a little uncomfortable. Oh well. At least she brought BBQ and slaw, homemade rolls, sweet tea and pound cake. For that you can forgive a mother almost anything. Especially when she brings enough for seventy-five folks.
Anyway, if we get started talking about my Momma and me we could write another book, so let’s get back to my daughter. In this photo, you can tell, she is so loved. Already she is gazing straight at the camera her head thrown back, a big grin on her face, looking just like she does years later floating down the Grand Canyon or kayaking in Ha Long Bay. Completely swaddled in clothing that someone else in her family wore or made or gave her, she is almost suffocated in the traditions of two loving families. Both grandfathers sold insurance. Both grandmothers taught. Her parents sit for hours watching her sleep, rocking her, folding every pink dress they can find. Never letting her wear her brothers’ hand-me-downs particularly the blue ones. Nursing her. Watching in wonder at what might unfold from this lovely bundle, carried gently wherever she goes.
I keep it on a shelf in my bathroom so that I can lift her up in prayer off and on all day. This christening photo with the paraphernalia I mean. Dear Lord protect her, nourish her, embolden her to grow, renew herself on this magnificent journey she has chosen that has taken her so far away from us. Help me to be grateful for her independence and happiness. Allow me to revel in her spirit of adventure. Sometimes I just look at the picture and remember and think is it possible that was twenty years ago? Sometimes I don’t look at all. Either I’m too busy or just not in the mood to be reminded. Happy to have a day slip by or maybe more honestly a minute when I don’t think of her and wonder what she’s doing.
It is difficult for me to have these loving memories of my daughter without comparing them to a patient I saw recently. I have heard and witnessed many traumatic stories but this one haunts me. I am writing a prescription, when I realize that the last name on the chart is not the last name used. “What’s your name?” I ask. “I go by both,” he answers. “Which name do you want on the prescription? Your legal name?” I try again. “It doesn’t matter,” he answers. And instantly, I want to cry. Doesn’t matter? How can what your name is not matter and to whom does it not matter? You, your mother, the father you never met or your doctor and teacher. “It matters, it matters to me sweetie,” I say to him. “Well, Dr. B, I just don’t know. Folks call me both.”
Folks call me both too I thought but not like that. Not like what you’re talking about now. How can you know who you are if you don’t know who your father is or you have four fathers and people call you two difference last names. I can’t help comparing, wondering how fortunate my daughter is to have been so grounded in her heritage, both the good and bad, the grandmother who didn’t want her to be uncomfortable and the mother who wanted her to be beautiful even if she was a little hot. How different the lives of these two children will become. Both brought into the world to create a landscape and portrait of their walk on earth. One child given all the brushes, paint and canvas she needs to establish her own identity. The other not even given a permanent last name. And we wonder at their differences. One at risk, the other at large. One with a rap sheet, the other a scholarship.
Next time you look in the mirror, ask yourself if you know your last name. If you do be glad and be generous. There are children out there who don’t and could use a little help.