My daughter’s name, Evalaine, was conceived well before she was. Borne out of my desire to honor the past and press into the future, this portmanteau came to me during a bout of dreaming during one miscarriage or another.
For Ev did not come easily, just as life did not pass easily for the women for whom she is named.
She is not Eve, she is not first woman. She is not Evaline, the most common mispronunciation. She is a short “e” and a long “a,” the third syllable taking a little longer on the tongue than does a “lyn” or a “line,” a lengthening of time to bring her full name into being. Her name stretches like her long arms stretch for me in the morning.
Four grandmothers made us that then made her: Evelyn and Marian on my partner’s side, Van Reed and Lorraine on mine.
I only knew Evelyn and Marian for a short time at the end of their lives. Both widowed in their fifties, these two women lived life in opposing ways. From Marian I learned that fearing life looks easy to do, that I need to guard myself and Ev from such a tendency. From Evelyn I learned that art can matter right until the end, that writing and painting and searching don’t ever need to halt until one’s last breath. As she was dying, I sat by her tininess and read her poetry in hopes that even when she couldn’t see with her eyes, she could still see words dancing.
I knew Van Reed—”Grandma”—and Lorraine—“Nana”—for many years of my life, and though Van Reed lived much longer into my life, I consider Lorraine the one from whom I learned the most.
Van Reed, the oddest of Ev’s four namesake names, comes from a town name or a last name of someone in Ironton. I don’t know. We never talked about much. From Van Reed I learned about how to be afraid of love, how to fight to live on one’s own terms, and earlier on in my life, how to be outside.
I sit by a gazing ball in Grandma’s yard, the old farmhouse where she grew up white in the sun behind us. Tulips and daffodils warm in the sun. Jonas, her schnauzery mix nearby. Grandma is slight, petite, curly hair like mine, eyes kind and bright like my father’s. She rubs the spring flower under my cheek, the closest she gets to holding and hugging, but close enough just the same. The flower yellow like the Lifesavers she slips to me during Sunday services at Mickley’s Church where she will later be buried. We are warm and close. I am safe in the moment next to her. I roll down the hill, arrive at the bottom, close to the water pump she and her family used before the plumbing and paving came to Mauch Chunk Road. I am grassy and dizzy and breathless with joy.
Nana taught me joy and despair, how the two can live in one person. Nana taught me to yell bingo, to travel without a license to drive, to drink Coke only from a bottle. Her zip-up housedress, big glasses, and thinning hair float behind many of my memories, my stories—and now my daughter. She taught me thrift by making me drink my leftover Froot Loop milk later in the day. She taught me that a drop in visit is the best kind. She taught me that mourning a daughter’s early death will destroy a person. She taught me that shame hurts, even before one even can name it.
I lie on the rough carpet, crayons and paper in front of me. The ticking of Days of Our Lives sounds over the hourglass on the TV. Nana holds her spiral mini-notebook where she keeps track of the Daily Number and Big 4 from the past month; she looks for patterns where there are none. I am a good artist for my age. I love to draw realistic images. I draw a bottle of beer to give to my Pappy who is out in the kitchen, a long room that stretches to the cluttered doorway to get out back. When we go out, we go out the front door for our walks to Liberty Lunch. Nana, absorbed in her show, has not watched me drawing the bottle in black and yellow crayon. I am particularly proud of this picture, its attention to detail from memory. I present to her. She yells at me: “Why would you make that? You cannot give that to him.” I don’t know that my alcoholic Pappy is trying to quit drinking due to a diabetes diagnosis, that I have drawn his favorite thing, that he can no longer have his favorite thing. I stand in front of Nana, picture in hand, not knowing what to do with the paper. I do not want to throw it away. I want to give it out of love. My cheeks burn as I feel something I have not felt before this moment, something I will learn to name as “shame” only a few years later.
Evalaine. She will learn all of these things from me and from her blood: joy, shame, sorrow, love, anger, regret. From Marian, Evelyn, Van Reed, Lorraine, all ghosts hearkened every time I call for my daughter.
When others speak of sacrifice for children, they mean such an openness that lays a mother’s heart bare. Mediating the world for a child, helping her feel the hurt instead of salving it—this is what I can do for this girl child who carries the weight of her great-grandmothers every time she writes her name.
Evalaine loves to rub a dandelion under my chin to see if “I like butter.” She looks for a little yellow smear to indicate this taste, though I think we might be using the wrong flower. Right now all yellow flowers are the same to her.