Monday, February 10, 2014

What's in a name?

“Mary Elizabeth Miller!”

Whenever I heard my full name rolling from Mother’s lips, I knew it meant trouble. For me.

Mother always called me “Mary.” And I wasn’t in trouble as long as it was just my first name. But add the middle name, and it usually meant a discovery of some sort had been made and my name was the first to pop into Mother’s head. And if the last name was added...well, let’s just say that she didn’t bother with the phrase, “Wait till your father gets home!!!”

She was always diplomatic and gave me an opportunity to explain my part in whatever happened. But when I was 5 years old, I no longer dutifully went out to the Weeping Willow tree to get a switch for my punishment to be delivered. I’d finally figured out if I would pull off the switch and lay it on the back stoop, then disappear...I might not suffer the consequences for the error of my ways.

Somehow, though, my mother would find me and I would receive proper punishment. Sometimes it was having my mouth washed out with soap. I learned that Dove Soap tasted terrible whenever I made the mistake of opening my mouth and allowing something to escape that I knew better of. Mother’s hearing was extremely good, much to my dismay. And her eyes could get very big while she’d inflate her nostrils at the same time!!! Yes, Mother had a way...

When Mother would just say, “Mary” it usually came in a sweet, kind voice. She was quite soft-spoken. (I know. It makes you wonder what happened to me!) And she had a precious disposition. That’s how I knew when I was really in trouble. Her face and voice changed immediately! 

As I said, Mother called me “Mary.” Daddy called me “Beth” or “Bess” or “Little Bit.” My oldest brother calls me “Betsy” now and again. My next brother calls me “Mary Beth” as did my cousins, aunts and uncles. My sister called me “Sissy” or “Bess” and when she passed away last year, the second brother began to call me “Sissy” which I love!

When I was a kid, though, Mother even had my daddy invoking the full-name confrontational tone! 
One Sunday night when he was preaching at our little country church, I was sitting on the front row with a friend. An 8-year old girl can usually be depended upon to behave during church...especially when her daddy is standing at the pulpit directly in front of her. But not always.

I had a broken wrist cradled in a splint with an ACE bandage wrapped around it. During that particular Sunday evening, I thought it would be fun to stick things down inside my splint, then pull them out and force my friend to smell them! Pencils and pens worked well. An offering envelope could be folded to just the right width and shoved in between my splint and my skin. My friend would dutifully smell each item I pulled from the magical, smelly splint. Then she’d cringe and make a terrible face, which would cause me to giggle and try to find something else to shove under her nose! It was quite entertaining until my father had enough. 

I had often wished parents had a warning light that would flash rapidly whenever the parent was getting close enough to having ‘enough!‘ 

I was completely oblivious until I heard Daddy’s commanding voice saying, “Mary Elizabeth, I believe it’s time you sat with your mother!”

Did he really just say that?!?

I slinked down in my seat, then stooped low and dutifully went back to sit with my mother. I never raised up during the rest of the service. Just wanting to melt into the pew and not be noticed, I kept my head in her lap. 

When service was over, I still laid low. Mother allowed me to keep my head down in the pew while she stood to greet the church members, just as she usually did. Then it happened.

A lady named Mary Elizabeth Greer was sitting in the pew behind us. She leaned over the pew and said in a loud voice, “Well, Mary Elizabeth...when I heard your daddy say it was time to go sit with your mother, I thought to myself...Pastor, I’m already sitting with my mother!” Mrs. Greer thought that was so funny and even repeated it to others nearby. My head still down in the pew, I wanted to become invisible. She laughed and tried to tease me out of my embarrassment. It didn’t work.

Fast forward from 1961 to 1974. I was a new bride. My husband served churches very near where my father had served when I was a girl. I went with him on hospital visits quite often and during one of those visits, I saw Mrs. Greer. She was easily recognizable. I was a grown, married woman by now...and cordially introduced myself to her at the hospital information desk. All those years had passed, but what do you think she said after she inquired of my parents’ health, etc.? Yes. She remembered that Sunday night so many years before. And her laugh hadn’t changed. She thought it was hilarious then and still did that day.

Here I was, all grown up…yet still the embarrassment crept back into my face as it turned red. I hope I didn’t give myself away, but time had NOT changed what I’d felt that Sunday night. I was just as embarrassed as I was then! I laughed nervously, bid her goodbye, then stepped away from the desk so she, as the Pink Lady, could aid other visitors at the hospital.

Isn’t it silly that I felt that all over again? Yes, I suppose so. But from that day on, I’ve tried to be very careful of what I say to children who are experiencing embarrassment in my presence. Mrs. Greer meant well, but that was so etched in my mind, the old feelings came back. I do not want to be that person for another child. I hope I’ve been able to fulfill the promise I made to myself that day. That was 40 years ago!

But I always seem to find something about myself that I can make joke about. It’s okay if I’m the one doing it! 

And now, I make jokes about all the silly and ridiculous things that happen to me on a regular basis! Performing my Stand-Up Comedy has turned out to be so much fun, I can’t believe I get paid to do it!!! All those stories over the years have been great fodder for my act. 

My motto: If you can’t make something fun...then make it funny! 

And now, just as I always do...I like to close with this reminder:
If you have a pulse, then you have a purpose. Make your life count!