Changing our past with a new name


I was up early or to bed late; depending on how you see things. The sun was not yet up so I got myself dressed to view the Orionid Meteor Shower which is best viewed before sunrise. I have fond memories of sky watching, laying myself down on the hood of our big old Cadillac and ending up close to falling asleep. I wonder what Neanderthals though of them, the stars I mean not Cadillacs.

Winter is in the air, I can smell it over the heavy smoke from the last few hot coals burning in my neighbours wood stoves. I could have done with another layer under my coat but thankfully I never go outside this early without my hat, mittens however do need to come out of storage. I am getting old if I can feel this temperature, normally this would be nothing to me.

Not long after I spotted my father in law on his morning walk – the man is his own force of nature. At 96 he walks every morning, midafternoon he does a few sets of weight lifting and often seeing him makes me feel I am sloth like. He once apologized to my husband for living to be this old; can you imagine being sorry for such a thing. We talked about the weather; that is what people do in small town Amurka after saying good morning. I like to ask the older folks if they have predictions for this coming winter. So far the predictions are not in my favour because I am behind on cutting wood. I am going to need more winter ales.

I stepped back inside the house and smiled to myself; I am a smart woman sometimes. I had put the coffee on before I went outside so I did not have to wait to warm my hands on a cup. Then I began my morning ritual; my five trusted news sites.

Volgograd Russia, once Tsaritsyn and once Stalingrad, had a bomb go off on a bus this morning. The only reason I even looked at the headline was because I have fond memories of the place. Wonderful example of civic identity, I had stayed with an old woman that ran a boarding house and she called it Stalingrad, I soon found that many people that survived the war did as did their children. I too call it Stalingrad. There was still rubble off in the distance, a bunker atop a hill that had it’s foundation rendered to crumbs by a bomb and a broken water fountain in the city center that no one dare bother to fix. The name was changed as a part of the de-Stalinization process or as I like to call it political correctness shame gone rampant but removing the scars of war is virtually impossible, even if they had moved each brick and fixed the fountain – as long as people are alive to tell their story and as long as we listen there is not an eraser big enough to make history (or them) disappear.

I grew up in a town that had a similar crisis of identity; The City of Berlin later called the Town of Berlin later renamed and now known as [redacted]. However the annual Oktoberfest festival is still the biggest draw to the city and a great celebration of German heritage; maybe lots of beer makes it all okay. They changed the name long before I was born or moved there but as a child, as I am now, consumed with historical curiosity I always called it Little Berlin. There is a story of a large bronze bust of Prussian Kaiser Wilhelm I in the center of the park downtown; it was tossed into the lake by a mob after the start of WWI. Once recovered it was brought to safety and on display at the Concordia Club but then again taken by a mob and marched through town to never be seen again. I was only twelve but I did my best to try and find an end to the mystery, some sort of evidence trail in the library and local papers but to no avail. I remember telling the story to people who had lived there all their lives and surprised when they told me they had never heard the story before. Someone has a large head in their basement their children will find someday.

Shame and apology – though we can certainly stand to feel some regret for our treatment of one another in the past changing a name does not change what came before it, Little Berlin was not the site or responsible for the Shoah but instead the name was changed to remove ourselves of any connection to Germany. I cannot imagine what that must have felt like for the peoples who founded the area, pride forced to shame and then of course before my generation and thereafter forgotten. We sometimes do not give each other the benefit of doubt, as though we could never make the distinction between two towns with a common name but each on a different continent.

Then I think of my own name or rather my own names. The tradition where I am from is all children receive the mother’s last name because you always know who the mother is but never know who the father is. So it was not strange to me that my grandmother used her family name when back home and in communication with those people and family but used my grandfather’s family name when they moved to another province. By right I use both of those names and was pleased to add another.

My father, who by biological standards is not, adopted me and my brother after marrying my mother. I remember being asked if I would like to change my last name, it was the first real grown up decision I got to make on my own. I was only nine but I had a strong sense of honour about me; perhaps being French Canadian and raised Roman Catholic had a part in that. I was happy to take on his family name, to symbolically attach myself to him and his Scottish clan; it meant something to us both. Again I became smitten with his history and even made traditional kilts for a while and nurturing my knowledge of beers out of cultural significance; well I went from bottle to imperial pint.

I do not believe in the institution of marriage, though I am married. I would not love my husband any less had I not, it was important to him and it was to make my life living with him in America easier. I was happy living with my common law partner for 14 years and would have been just as happy to do so with D.  I have not changed one piece of identification, I still hold my father’s family name but in particular social occasions when being introduced to someone or introducing myself I use my husband’s last name. Their family has a long history here, it is after all why they are called ‘Hoosiers’ because everyone asks ‘who is your…’ and they can easily go back five generations. I took great pleasure and time learning their history as well. I did not not change my name out of political feminist war, of all the things there is to argue about a woman’s right to self-determination their last names is insignificant to me. Perhaps more beer would make this better too.

I grew into my name, I have met women with the same name that hate it and I felt bad for them; could you imagine hating your own name? I like that is not a common name and by all standards it is an old world name. My birth father wanted to name me Winona but thankfully my mother filled out the paper work quickly and named me after her great aunt who was also a nun.  There are several ways to abbreviate my name, there are some traditional nicknames given as well but I always enjoyed letting the people that loved me decide; when I am angry or conducting business I use the full force of the whole name.

Pyx has been mine for what feels like ages – I sometimes wonder how people come up with their creative handles online. Mine is the only nickname I have ever had and it was given to me.  A pyx is a small box often made or lined with gold that holds the Eucharist when a Priest goes out to give communion to those who are ill, dying or unable to attend mass. So I think my ramblings above, sentiment and tendencies in my blog are quite well explained by my handle alone… it suits me even though I am removed from the whole religious aspect of it but that is because I drink more beer.

2 comments on “Changing our past with a new name

  1. tispersonal says:

    I love the way you write. Such great story telling.

  2. mrmodigliani says:

    Wow this is interesting. I lived in Gdansk Poland long ago right after the shipyard workers overthrew the Communists.

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