Yesterday I loved Nancy Drew. Today I love washing machines.
The latest model is a year old, and it’s still a minor miracle. It balances the load, pours in about a teacup of water, goes swish . . . swish . . . swish . . . and, when it’s finished, plays Schubert’s “The Trout.”
I intended to write more about washing machines, but I’ve decided instead to address a misconception related to my novel in progress: the use of the title Miss.
One of my characters, Miss Emma, is what used to be called a little old lady. She’s a widow with a forty-year-old son.
Two editors who’ve critiqued the early chapters have the character should be called Mrs. Emma, because Miss is reserved for unmarried women.
Miss is an all-purpose title. I understand the issue can be confusing, but I know whereof I speak:
Miss Ethel, Miss Edna, Miss Pearl, Miss Beulah, Miss Louise, and Miss Bessie were spinsters.
Miss Blanche, Miss Gladys, Miss Minnie, Miss Mamie, and Miss Cora were widows.
Miss Jessie, Miss Bettie, Miss Katie Maude, Miss Sammie, Miss Polly, Miss Carmen, Miss Essie, Miss Janie, Miss Lily, and Miss Sallie were married.
K is obviously for Kathy, a name at the heart of a lifelong kerfuffle.
The plan was to name me Katherine for my great-grandmother and to call me Kathy. But at the last minute, when the nurse came in and asked for the baby’s name so they could type up a birth certificate, my mother added Mary for my grandmother. Later she told my father what she’d done and he said that was fine with him. He liked his mother-in-law. My grandmother liked the name.
Mother later told me she’d wanted to spell Katherine with a C, but she was afraid her grandmother would say I wasn’t really named for her (the family was funny that way).
Thus was I denied the privilege of assuming the mantle of romanticism connected with hearing Heathcliff call across the moor, Catherine! Catherine! (I don’t think he did that in the book or the movie, but I have a good imagination.)
The precaution turned out to be unnecessary,because every time my great-grandmother, whom we called Grannygirl (that’s another story) wrote my name, she spelled it Catherine.
(I was glad I’d been spared her first name, Minna. She didn’t like it either and changed it to Minnie but later wished she hadn’t.)
Otherwise, my name was fine with me, too, as long as we stayed put. But when we moved and I had to enroll in a new school in the middle of second grade, the teacher said they already had a Kathy so I had to be Mary. I didn’t mind–it was just one more of the slings and arrows of being uprooted from my hometown and moving halfway across the universe*–but when I discovered the other Kathy was always called Kathleen, I thought the teacher’s reasoning was a little off.
The next September, I sat with twenty-something other third-graders and their mothers while the teacher called names from a stack of book cards. She got to Mary K. Waller; my mother marched me up and said she’s here, and she’s called Kathy; the teacher said, No this is Mary K-A-Y. I sat back down. Mary Kay didn’t appear. The teacher went through the no-shows and once again, Mary Kay didn’t appear. My mom said she thought that must be a clerical error–one person read the names, another person wrote them down?–and so I settled in as Kathy.
The next year, mothers didn’t hang around for the settling in–I suppose fourth graders were deemed able to fend for themselves–and when the teacher called Mary Waller? I let it slide. Later when my mother asked why, I said something like, “Meh.” Vicki, my best friend from third grade, called me Kathy; others who’d known me before took their pick.
Fast forward to college: Roommates said Kathy, but otherwise, I was Mary. Once I was Mark. The first time the philosophy professor called for Mark Waller, I said nothing, but when Mark didn’t answer the second time, I raised my hand and said in a small voice–one doesn’t want to accuse a prof of illiteracy on the first day of class–Mary? he rechecked the list and laughed. Since then, two more people have made the same error. Perfectly understandable: when you’re skimming, Mary K. resembles Mark.
I was a bit miffed, however, last Christmas Eve, when the young man at Best Buy told me he didn’t have my order. I said the computer said he did have it. He said he didn’t. I said would he check again. He pointed at his monitor and said there was only one Waller on the list.
I said, “Mark?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Mary K.?”
He said, “Oh,” and forked over the box. I was as sweet about the situation as I could manage, considering it was Christmas Eve and I knew he’d been extra busy; but, considering it was late afternoon on December 24th, and I’d started shopping on December 23rd, my store of sweetness was at low ebb. My words might have carried an undertone that said, Knothead.
My adult life has comprised a series of minor tangles with officialdom. Minor, because I’ve defaulted to Mary. Sometimes I forget. Last week, the nurse assigned to handle my infusion looked up from her monitor and said, “Hi. I’m Holly.”
I said, “I’m Kathy.”
Her expression changed from welcoming to stricken. I got it, admitted I was Mary, and watched her begin to breathe normally again.
My mother once said she thought I didn’t like my name. I did, and I do. It has a pleasant sound, and my written initials have a pleasing symmetry.
It’s sharpened my mental acuity and flexibility by requiring me to (usually) remember who I am in (almost) any setting.
But there are drawbacks. The first hearkens back to the third-grade Mary Kay thing. I do not like being confused with a cosmetics company.
The second concerns two questions I’m asked more and more frequently by young people who don’t understand that Mary Katherine was a perfectly acceptable, mainstream, plain, ordinary, everyday name before it gave way to Lisa and Jennifer and Ashley and Madison:
Are you Catholic?
Are you a nun?
I’m a member of a large Protestant family that recycles names.
* About 250 miles to the southwest, to Del Rio, on the border with Mexico. It was a nice place, and after a few months, I loved being there. Sometimes I wish we’d stayed.
When I think of brands, I think of Opal the White-faced Hereford.
She was big and sleek and fat, the only registered cow in the Waller herd, and the best escape artist in the history of cowdom.
No matter how strong the fence–heavy cedar posts, six strands of barbed wire, stretched tight, a barricade I couldn’t get through without a follow-up of iodine and gauze–she broke out. How the beast breached the barricade was a mystery and remained so for a long time.
Finally she slipped up, as bovines sometimes do, and busted out while my father was watching. He said she just lay down beside the wire and rolled under. A regular Hairy Houdini.
To her credit, she never fled, nor did she meander into the neighbor’s maize, but grazed beside the narrow lane between the fence and the property line.
Nevertheless, since cows are capricious, my father bought a brand. In my honor–and because technically Opal was mine–he chose a K.
I hasten to say the branding was nothing like you see on Rawhide. He did not restrain Opal, stick the iron into a blazing fire, and sear her hide. After repeatedly shooing her back through the gate, he probably wanted to, but he didn’t.* He merely dipped the iron into an acid designed for the purpose, walked up to her, patted her on the back, and pressed it against her hip. The acid ate the hair and killed the follicles, so she was left wearing the initial. Maybe she itched a for a few days, but that was nothing compared to what the barbs must have felt like.
The K didn’t keep her confined, of course, but it made her easier to spot if she ever decided to widen her social circle.**
Well, anyway, when I think of brands, I think of Opal, or did until the writing thing came along–and I learned I must have a brand so readers can identify me.
The prospect wasn’t pleasant. I felt like a box of Kleenex.™
But it had to be done, so finally I’m designing my brand.
Unfortunately, the K won’t do. I mean, it really won’tdo. When I put MURDER ON WHEELS (see sidebar) on Goodreads, I was immediately confused with a different Kathy Waller. That required some straightening out. Googling Kathy Waller brings up a multitude of people I’m not, including the EVP and CFO of the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO). (I wouldn’t mind being the EVP of Coca-Cola, but the company would.)
Officially, I’m a Mary Katherine, so I have options. Mary Katherine isn’t one of them. In the early years, I liked it just fine, but lately I’ve heard, “Are you a nun?” often enough not to want it hanging around.
People who don’t know me well, and some who do, call me Mary, so when I hear that name shouted out in a doctor’s waiting room, I answer, but it’s still a little foreign. I sign Mary K., a name I’ve come to despise, in part because it’s sometimes confused with Mary Kaye and I have to get that untangled, but mainly because Mary Kay makes lipstick and I don’t.
Once again, Google proves its worth. M. K. Waller brings up only one other person with my initials. That’s good.
When I search for MK, Google thinks I mean MK Wallet and pulls up only Michael Kors, which appears to be more of a business (jet set luxury: designer handbags, watches, shoes, clothing & more. Receive free shipping and returns on your purchase). That’s even better. But I don’t like the way it looks on the page.
So I’ve settled on M. K.
The name chosen, I changed the theme–appearance–of the blog. I wanted to change it anyway, because I was tired of the previous one, and it seemed best to make one smooth transition rather than two bumpy ones. I’m not sure about the new theme. I may change it again, but M. K. will remain.
There’s one more aspect of branding I’m still ruminating** over, so I’ll leave it for another time.
I’ll add, however, that I first ran across the word ruminate in a line from James Thomson’s “Winter”:
The Cattle, from th’untasted Fields, return, And ask, with Meaning low, their wonted Stalls; Or ruminate in the contiguous Shade . . .
And I complete this post by circling back to the beginning, starting with cows and ending with cows, and thus preserve the unities, as every writer, duke, and scoundrel knows is proper.
P. S. What do you think of the new design? Both positive and negative comments are welcome. I need to know. The page I’d like feedback on is here: http://kathywaller1.com
* If he’d threatened to brand her the old-fashioned way, I would have cried and that would have been the end of that. (Maybe.)
**In fairness, I add that Opal wasn’t the only one who*** got over the wall. Clyde Barrow escaped a couple of times. But he was a Holstein and flew over the fence, as Holsteins are often wont to do, so there was no mystery. We would have been surprised if he hadn’t.
The animals in the photograph are cows, not steers, and they might not be Holsteins, but they’re black and white, and they’re sweet, and I have poetic license, so I ask you to suspend disbelief for the moment.