In April 1947, my parents named their first child Linda Lois. For two decades, the name Linda, meaning ‘pretty”, and Mary, meaning “beloved”, dominated the two most popular girl’s names in the United States.
So, why in February 1949 did my parents break from fashion and sign Iris Lee on my birth certificate instead of Mary Lee?
Well, my mother, Sadie Lee McCoy O’Brien, resolved to fulfill a promise and chose Iris, meaning “promise”, although a name not famous.
According to my mother’s account, she made a vow during World War II. “When I left the McCoy homeplace to work in a factory in Kansas City, I boarded a room in Mrs. Iris Ellis’ home. In that lonely time, Mrs. Ellis was like a mother to me. That’s why I named you Iris.”
Had I known this significant history while a teenager, I may have better brushed off the boys when they hollered in the halls, “Hey, poison iris!” or, “How’s it goin’, eyeball?”
“Boys will be boys,” my mother, the elder of four brothers, would say. Meanwhile, I met Mary Schwartz as students in Warren Lincoln High School. One of two Marys to twelve Lindas in our class of 1967, we befriended one another in our Speech 2 class and Synchronized Swim Club.
The summer before our senior year, Mary and I boarded a bus to visit my cousins along Peter Creek, Kentucky. My cousin Kathy picked us up at the Williamson, West Virginia bus station and drove us to her home in her shiny 1966 Mustang.
I’ve since wondered what possessed my parents to allow their seventeen-year-old daughter to travel south of the Michigan border with an overnight stay in a dingy Ohio motel. My goodness, the freedom of adventure my generation enjoyed before cell phones and social media. Since that landmark summer, several Marys continue to weave their gifts, talents, and loving kindness throughout my life. For the past twenty-some years, I’ve sat beside Mary Merlo on Mondays in a writing group. We critique and encourage each other’s work, talk about family.
The spring of 2011, Mary Ellen Hammarland brought her daughter, Heather, to a Mother’s Day Tea I hosted in my dining room.
Within a week, Mary Ellen joined my farm staff. That’s what happens with mutual affection for tea and weeding a lavender field.
Thirteen years later, Mary Ellen remains our house and chicken-sitter, and the leader of my neighborhood Bible study.
Last but not least, two years ago in church, another Mary entered my life. During one of our conversations after service she said, “Oh, what I’d give for a good haircut.”
A daughter of a barber, I replied, “I’d be happy to cut your hair.”
Dear Reader, Mary called yesterday. “Iris, please remember to bring your scissors Monday afternoon.”
After my critique group, we’ll sit at her kitchen table and admire the pink Easter lily the Rochester OPC delivered to her door, enjoy Panera takeout, and count our blessings.
Before I trim Mary’s hair.
Contact Iris at firstname.lastname@example.org.