I was too embarrassed yesterday to mention it but it was the feast of St. Matilda who is my blog name saint. You can find out more about the patron saint of large families and queens (aren't all mama's the queens of their castles?) here and here. Some of you know that Matilda is not my given name. Forgive me for preferring a certain level of anonymity but I am thoroughly and completely a worrier. I see though that I am not alone and like Jane, I chose a name that is a family name.
Matilda was my grandmother's middle name and my daughter is her namesake. I have always loved her name! Matilda was a name that had spunk and character. Mind you, I like my real name just fine. It is unique in it's own way, I think. Kind of like "Salutations!" instead of just "Hello!".
My grandmother was first generation American. Both her father and mother (and even later, her step-mother) came over on the boat from the "old country". Her given name was very Czech. She was always called Betty Anne (Anne was her confirmation name) and she couldn't stand the name Matilda. Seriously! For our wedding we received a lovely family Bible that had a family tree to fill out. I called her to get the authentic spelling of her name. She gave me the spelling of her first name and reminded me that it translates to Elizabeth, but when I asked her to spell her middle name she said, "Just put Anne." Shocked I said, "Grandma! This is the Bible. I can't lie in the Bible!" "Just. put. Anne!" she responded. (I didn't.) She even tried to talk me out of naming my daughter after her because I wanted to honor her real name and not her Americanized name. I had to know why!
I thought it must have something to do with the cultural prejudices back in those days. I have heard many stories of people changing their name to hide their ethnicity. Or maybe, because it was also her mother's name and she had died when my grandmother was young, Grandma found it difficult to think on it without thinking on how much she loved and missed her dear mother? Although she was very elderly at the time and speaking was difficult she managed to tell me something of the story.
When she was a young girl, the song Waltzing Matilda was very popular and apparently children back then weren't much different than they are today. She was teased so much by her brothers and friends that she came to strongly dislike the name. She lived into her eighties but the sting of those unkind words stayed with her.
My grandma didn't talk about what she remembered from her youth. My grandpa was the storyteller in the family. She was a quiet, lovely lady with a past full of the stuff books are made of. I don't know all of it, but I am learning as much as I can. Every new bit just amazes me. How fascinating her life was, the ugliness she endured and the beauty she found in it, the stories she could have told but chose to conceal in the depths of her heart where the painful memories could be kept hidden. But that's who she was.
A lady with an amazing name who was always just called... Betty.
I don't think her real name was even used on the grave marker she shares with my grandfather... a man who was baptized Vaclav but everybody called him Jim.