My mother was the 5th child born to a pair of Swiss Immigrants in the 1930’s. It was the depth of the depression when she was conceived and a new baby was the last thing this family needed. Already strapped for cash, it has been rumored that homemade wine was sold out of the basement during prohibition to keep food on the table. My grandmother did not give birth easily and her last 3 pregnancies nearly killed her. The doctor thought she would not survive this birth and strongly advised an abortion. My grandmother considered it but it was the desire to have children that got her mixed up in an arranged marriage to my grandfather. She decided she would rather die and proceeded to pray for the rest of her pregnancy to Mary for help.
Months later my mother was born on The Assumption. For those of you not Catholic, that is the day Mary was taken to heaven – body and soul. It’s a day of Holy Obligation and also the day my grandmother had the easiest delivery of her life. She felt she had Mary to thank and even though she really didn’t like the name Mary or Marie she named the baby that anyway. “Tsk, Tsk,” she would say, “Vat else could I do?” She thought she would give the baby a beautiful middle name that she would call her by. That plan was foiled when the day of the baptism my grandfather and his brother Hans got drunk. The mother’s never came to the baby’s baptism as they were home convalescing or making lunch – I’m not sure. My Aunt Lucy, age 7, was there and when the drunken brothers asked her what she would like the middle name to be she said, “Grapefruit.”
English was a second tongue for all of them but they knew Grapefruit wasn’t a good middle name. They decided on Gertrude because it sounded close enough to Grapefruit to please my Aunt Lucy. My grandmother was crest fallen when she learned her beautiful baby was named Marie Gertrude. It was then she decided to just call the baby that – Baby. As Baby grew the name was shortened to Babe.
My mother grew into a real “Babe” but emotionally couldn’t pull it off. When she married my father his family being rather rigid refused to call her Babe. They called her Marie, her Christian name. My father knew she hated the name Marie, couldn’t call her Babe and decided he would call her Schatz. He never knew how to introduce her and for years some of her closest friends called her Mrs. Day.
Today would have been my mother’s birthday. She wanted my sister’s and I to call her Mother. She thought it sounded elegant. She recoiled at the word Mommy and we knew never to use it. We called her Mom. I called her on the phone almost every day since I left home. For a woman who couldn’t settle on a name, she could carry a conversation for hours. I miss her.