My mother, Theresa Kathleen Brett, was born on July 17th, 1955 in Saint Augustine, Florida. The irony that such a pale, red headed creature was to be born in the hot, humid, freckle producing state of Florida is rather interesting to me. Irish skin is not well suited for bright sun light. We like clouds. And moors. I digress.
Upon the news that his new sibling was a girl, my Uncle John threw up his hands in exasperation but my mom's sister, my Aunt Linda, was beyond thrilled. They had been told by my Grandma Polly, their mother, that if the baby was a boy that John could name it and if it was a girl Linda could name it.
The sticking out of tongues insued I'm sure.
John was eleven and Linda was nine when my mother was born and so the arrival of such a tiny person was perfectly wonderful and they could not wait to see her. When they were finally ushered into the hospital room with their mother and new baby sister the suspense was killing them. Polly eagerly held up the most darling little red headed baby they had ever seen and said,
"Here is your sister!" and she smiled at Linda. "Well? What are you going to name her?"
Linda, eyes wide, gazed up at her sister and proudly said,
"Her name is Theresa! For Saint Theresa!"
(Now there are several Saint Theresas'. I am not quite sure to which one she was referring. If she were around right now I'm sure she could tell me. She would, too, along with a whole lot of other stuff that I DIDN'T ask about but that she would volunteer anyway. She's in California, however, most likely having a very deep conversation with her dog. I'm not kidding.)
From across the room a voice growled,
"No. Her name is Kathleen. Not Theresa."
My grandfather, Brendan, sat in a chair next to the window and as he said this he stood up and put his hands in his pockets.
"Kathleen is a good Irish name and I'll not have my newest daughter named anything else."
My grandmother seeing the inevitable tears and sobbing that were about to emerge from Linda smiled tensely at her husband,
"Brendan, I made a promise to the children that they could name the baby. You were there. You agreed." Her teeth were clinched. She didn't want to ruin this lovely, little moment. Polly was just glad that Brendan didn't stink of alcohol.
"I know what you said, and I know what I said. But we're not calling her Theresa. Her name is Kathleen."
Linda burst into tears again and Polly reached out to her and said,
"Listen, her first name will be Theresa, but we'll call her Kathleen, alright?", and with that she looked back and forth from her sobbing daughter to her glowering husband and again made an attempt at a smile, "Her birth certificate will officially say, Theresa Kathleen Brett. That way everyone is happy."
My grandfather huffed and shrugged and nodded his head and Linda smiled wanly at her mother and wiped her face with the backs of her hands. My Uncle John sat in a chair, swinging his legs. He had really wanted a brother.
That is, I'm told, how my mother was named.
I never knew my Grandfather. And, when I think about it, neither did my mom really. He was an alcoholic and he and my grandmother divorced when my mom was still a baby. My grandma remarried Harry Paeglow, our beloved Papa Harry, when my mother was around 3 or 4 and he was the only "dad" she ever knew.
For all that, though, her father, Brendan, gave her her name. Her real name. She always hated the name Theresa. But she lost him. The last time she saw her father was when she was six years old and that was only in a car as he slowly drove down the street past her house. It didn't dawn on her who it was until the car had turned the bend. That would be the last time she saw him.
Thrity-six years later, another Brendan would play a huge role in her life as the other Brendan she lost. My brother, the baby boy she was carrying, would be stillborn. She named him Brendan Joseph and then, thirteen days later, she would, as I was told repeatedly by well meaning people, "Your mom went to heaven to be with Jesus and that baby boy...."
I don't know how heaven works. I have, like I assume most people do, a very hazy conception of it despite the books I've read and the accounts I've heard.
I don't know if Brendan is up there, perpetually in a newborn like state or if he's...grown up, moving from infancy and into boyhood, skipping the awkward pimply, sqwaking, hormone driven pre-teens and is now an almost eighteen year old young man preparing to take his heavenly SAT's. I do like to think that when my mom "arrived" she was greeted by a large, buxom angel with rosy cheeks and bifocals who then handed over my brother Brendan with much oohing and aahing and a, "He's such a joy but I'll bet he's glad to see his momma!"
I like that idea.
I don't have many stories of my mother's childhood. Most of my stories of my mother are based from my childhood. There are a few, however, that stand out. Ones that I've heard my grandma Polly tell over and over and a few I remember my mom telling me herself; in those rare moments when she would share about herself and I was, by the grace of God, cognizant enough to pay attention.
One of my grandma's favourite stories to tell about my mom goes something like this:
"Everyday, around 4 o'clock, the neighbourhood ladies would gather in our backyard in the space between our yard and the neighbour's house behind us and we would have afternoon tea. Kathy was around two years old and was the cutest little thing you ever did see. I had just made a brand new little frock for her to wear and Linda convinced me to let her dress Kathy up in the new dress along with a frilly pair of socks and little, white patent leather shoes. Linda has always loved dolls just like I do, you know. She collects dolls just like me. See all of my dolls? This one looks just like Kathy, see her red hair? Your Uncle John gets so mad at me when I buy dolls but I can't help myself. I even have 'em under my bed...where was I?"
"You were saying that Aunt Linda has always loved dolls..."
"Oh, right. Well, Kathy was just like a little living doll to Linda, she had so much fun dressing that baby up and playing with her hair. She got Kathy all dressed up for tea and then led her outside. Kathy had a stubborn streak, even at two, she never grew out of it. You have it too, you know. Your mother would call me in tears because she would spank you and you wouldn't cry! You're the most stubborn girl! Why you were so rotten I'll never know. (and here she squints at me) What did you go and get a tattoo for anyway?"
"I like them, Grandma. In fact, I have two of them."
"What are you going to do when you're old, though? You'll be an old lady with tattoos?"
"Grandma, if you think about it, when it comes to my generation all of our grandkids will grow up thinking that grandmas and grandpas with tattoos are NORMAL. There are going to be DROVES of old people with wiggly, wrinkly tattoos! You were talking about mom, remember? Linda was leading her outside?"
Grandma then waves her hand as if to erase my words out of the air.
"Yes, yes. Humph. You are the craziest girl. So anyway. Kathy didn't want Linda to hold her hand, she wanted to walk by herself. All the ladies were just squealing with delight over how darling she looked as she toddled across the grass but then, all of a sudden, Kathy stopped and looked down at the gorund. Then she raised her foot, wearing those little, white patent leather shoes and said,
She had stepped in some doggie doo doo! I was mortified but the rest of the ladies started laughing till they cried and then I did, too. Kathy knew she had done something funny and she laughed, too, and it was just the funniest thing you ever saw. Don't you think that's funny?"
I always nod my head. It IS funny. What's NOT funny are all of the dolls that are staring me down while she tells this story. I love my grandma, I do. She is spunky and kooky and adorable. She just has WAY TOO MANY DOLLS. It breaks her heart that I don't like dolls. Erin, my sister, she likes dolls and so I can only imagine, upon the deaths of my grandma and Aunt Linda, the copious amounts of glassy-eyed, silken haired, weird dolls that Erin will have to contend with.
It's now 2:08am and I was already exhausted when I started this. But, I have words running around in my brain these days that are quite determined to get out and so here I am. And here I go.