Probably I should begin with something clever like A funny thing happened to me on the way to an internet site yesterday. . . but it wasn’t funny at all. Emotions hit from all directions like a hail storm spawned by a hurricane, but funny wasn’t one of them. Not even close.
I grew up with an unusual last name. People couldn’t seem to spell or pronounce it. I don’t know why because it’s only one syllable–only five letters. I was the only one with that name in our town. The only one. It was over three decades before I ever saw it anywhere other than as a part of my own name. My mother, divorced and remarried when I was five, resented that I kept it. I’d shake my head indignantly when she mentioned changing it so that we “would be a real family.” As if.
As if I wanted to share the name of the not-nice stepfather who didn’t like me any more than I liked him. A skinny, stringy-haired, resentful kid wasn’t the dowry every man dreams of. And not that he even wanted to adopt me. He never mentioned it, but it was a constant source of friction between my mother and me. A half-brother and sister arrived. I loved them dearly but still wanted to keep the name I had because, with my childish rationalization, my father could find me if he ever looked. He didn’t.
Photos in my grandmother’s album showed a tall, handsome, smiling man in hat and overcoat standing beside my laughing, fur-coated mother. He is holding a snow-suited toddler in his arms. I know that it’s me. Look, we have the same eyes. A few war bonds, my birth certificate and the photos. . . nothing more.
My cousin, a couple of years older than me, remembered him! She told me that yes, his name was Charles, but he had an odd nickname. I would so love to know why, but questions were a no-no. Once my mother snapped, “He wasn’t your father; he was your sire.”
She had met him in Baltimore, where she’d worked during the war. Oddly, she taught welding there, a trade she had learned at the state agricultural and technical college. He was seven years older than she. After she died, I found a few love letters he’d written to her and even notes to me. I was in my 50’s before I ever saw them. Seeing his handwriting for the first time awoke the little girl inside of me. I sobbed.
Marriage to a wonderful man has given me a beautiful last name, easy to pronounce and spell. My maiden name became an initial in my signature.
In the summer of 1980 I suddenly became haunted with the urge to find him. Research eventually gave me the phone number of someone with the same name as his. I was too nervous to call, so my husband did it for me. The nice young man who answered said that the man was his father and had died earlier that week. I was numb. I wondered if he’d thought of me before he died, if there had been some mysterious ESP connection.
Our family is quite small and our children pouted because they didn’t have a passel of cousins like their friends. Maybe they do, I always thought.
Two weeks before my mother died, I stood by her hospital bed and asked bluntly, “What was my father’s occupation?” She sighed as if about to say “bank robber” or “moonshiner” but surprised me totally with, “He was a damned hairdresser.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
My hair was always trouble to my mother. Too coarse, too straight, too thick, too stubborn. It was not until I was in my 40’s that a hair stylist convinced me that Your hair has great body! You have NICE hair! (thank you, Mark!) A hairdresser father might have intervened and spared me a childhood spent in home-permed frizziness.
Ah, it is over a half century later, can’t you give it a REST, Girl?!!!!
Two days ago, out of the blue, a friend sent me a newspaper archive photograph of an old home in Orange county, CA. “Isn’t this your maiden name?” she’d written about the name of the house. Yes! There were others out there! I pulled out my laptop and googled my maiden name, something I’d never done before. So many possibilities! THOUSANDS!!! I’d never dreamed. . . !
Eventually I found a genealogy site and entered my father’s full name. A hit! There was a link to an old newspaper article and within the article was a close-up picture, captioned Barber School Graduation Day of a smiling, dark-haired man. Funny, we have the same eyes.
I learned from the article that he’d married again before I was three years old. No wonder my mother was bitter! He and “the love of his life” had “five wonderful children.” (No need to mention the forgotten one, of course.)
Do the five wonderful ones want to know about me? (Hi! Half of me is your oldest sister!) Do I want to know about them?
There is another link and another photo, that of his youngest son. It says he followed in his father’s footsteps and now operates a salon in the very building his father’s shop used to be. He looks like a nice guy.
I called my husband over and pointed to the screen. He read the article silently and studied the photographs. “Maybe it’s time,” he mused, “that we drove up for a haircut.”