My name is a flower, which blooms and blossoms on Scottish moors, conquering hillsides with purple hues and shades of pink, hearty stems and deep roots. Like a pretty parasite, as far as the eye can see. My name is everywhere, like the number 4, an unlucky number in some cultures. For some, it means doom. Definite failure. A straight path to misfortune. For me, it means I land on luck sometimes, and fall on failure others. It breathes in and out, with the colors of a garden: hand-picked, bright, natural. Like Mother Nature’s smile.
It is the framed photo of my grandfather in war-time uniform. Strong. Fragile. Full of memories. My name is my own, Heather, but my middle name, Alexandra, is a borrowed baby born from its male counterpart, Alexander. My grandfather, Joseph Alexander, who I know nothing, nothing, hardly anything about.
Sometimes, before drifting off to sleep, I dream up what your days must have been like, what you must have been like beyond the black and white of photographs. Did you trudge off to work in thin-soled shoes? To mine coal? To build weapons for the war? To shine shoes or fix clocks?
I imagine you coming home after work, bags of groceries in hand. You give your wife, Netty, a peck on the cheek. When she asks you for the grocery list, you gladly hand it over, announcing, with your finger in the air, “I forgot something!”
“But, dear, everything is here,” she says.
You walk back in with a small rectangular box, filled with the surprise of a black pearl necklace, black as the coal I imagine you mining.
This story, among others, float in and out of our ears, creating a current of conversation over family recipes, casual what-are-you-up-to’s, and nostalgia as sweet as the sweet potato casserole topped with toasted marshmallows that sits next to the succulent, stuffed turkey. I wonder if my name will drift over the dinner table in my family’s future.
Heather. Simple. Plain. Just a name. It is as common as cubic zirconia, a cheap imitation of diamonds, which are formed from an eternity of heavy pressure upon the coal that my grandfather may have mined. I am no diamond in the rough, though I wish to be.
If only I could be like my grandmother, Janet, who was as bold as gold; Netty, in the stories of her younger years. Or at least Joseph, who can become Joe. He is simple yet strong, like silver.
But alas, I am Heather. No nickname. Just a name.
When I was a child I wished for a different name, which could transform itself, and minimize itself, like a little sheet of paper folded neatly and placed into a pants pocket. Like Sara without the h or Lee short for Kylee.
But I know I will live a full life, like a river flooding over with adventure, and that even a Scottish flower born in a simple garden, unlucky as the number 4, and fragile as a framed photo can find its way into the legendary tales shared over a family’s dining room table.
*Inspired by Sandra Cisneros’ “My Name” from The House on Mango Street. My students have written their own, and they are equally as beautiful as Cisneros’ original.