People have called me “Meg” my entire life. But that isn’t the name on my birth certificate. It’s Margaret. I was born Margaret Alyson Hendleman, named after my grandmother. My mom wanted to nickname me “Maggie,” but my grandmother didn’t like it – or any of the other nicknames for her new little namesake. Well, she didn’t like any except “Meg.” So that’s my name now, well, my nickname anyway.
She lived in El Paso, Texas and we visited her sometimes (she more often visited us). But here I am just after swimming in her neighbor’s pool. I’m not sure my grandmother loved after-swimming hugs…
She had a secret recipe for pecan log rolls. So delicious. She once taught me how to make them. They are so good. So good. So good. Sometimes things don’t taste as good to me if I am the one who makes them but these must be fool proof because even I, yes I, can do it.
She was classy and kind and had a little fierceness to her. Once she bit me because I’d bitten my sister. I never bit anybody ever again. She liked a good foot rub. She lived through the depression and I remember hearing a story where she sent her sister downstairs on Christmas morning to see if they had received any presents. If so, her sister was to sing a song. When my grandmother heard her singing, she ran down the stairs to see what Santa had brought them – two tin pie pans. One for each of them. This story makes me cry each time I even think about it. She was grateful and wonderful.
And I’ve always liked having her name. Well, probably not always. In about the third grade I became self conscious of my real name – and my nickname. There was a really pretty girl in my class and her name was Megan so I began telling people that’s what my name was. I’d even write it on my school work assignments. When my mom found out she told me that Margaret and Meg were nice names, too, and I shouldn’t try to change my name, but I should make it a good one. Whatever that meant. I stopped trying to change my name, but it wasn’t until a couple years later that I actually understood what she meant.
In the fifth grade, I heard a story of President George Albert Smith. He had a dream where his deceased grandfather George A. Smith appeared to him in a dream and asked, “I would like to know what you have done with my name.” President Smith responded, “I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.” (Presidents of the Church Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 134.) My grandmother was still alive at that time and I decided then that I would accept her name and do things with it that would make her happy. I wanted to be the kind of namesake she would want to have.
Her name (and mine…) actually means “pearl” Pearls begin inside an oyster’s shell when an intruder, like a grain of sand or bit of floating food slips in between the shell of the oyster and the protective layer that covers the oyster’s organs, called the mantle. In order to protect itself from irritation, the oyster will quickly begin covering the uninvited visitor with layers of nacre — the mineral substance that fashions it’s own shell. Layer upon layer of nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, coat the grain of sand until the iridescent gem is formed. According to Wikipedia (the source for all things true, right?) the word pearl has become a metaphor for something very rare, fine, admirable, and valuable.
I think my grandmother was all of these things – admirable and rare and valuable. Even during her last days in a rest home, she was graceful – taking each of life’s intruding trials and turning them into pearls. I’m still working on it but someday, when I’ve done enough, I want to be able to face her again and finally tell her I did a good job with her name.