But Who Am I?

I was just a kid living out in the country in a little town in red dirt Oklahoma during the 1960s. Having been born in the late fifties.

But then when I turned six I began attending an elementary school. And from that day forward I was no longer sheltered from reality.

At home I lived with my Granny and my grandmother. They worked hard in the garden and cooked three meals a day.

Every day I went to the hen house to gather eggs. Gently lifting the chickens and reaching underneath for the warm eggs that I carefully carried to the house.

I played jacks and marbles, made up games and stories, and never really thought about who I was. Because to young children it doesn’t really matter.

Until suddenly it does.

At school everything changed.

One day someone official at the school told me that I could no longer sign my name as I’d been signing it.

I didn’t understand why. She told me that it wasn’t my legal name. It was my Granny’s name. But it wasn’t mine.

Then who was I?

They took more from me than a last name that day. No one had prepared me or told me the truth.

It was as though a Pandora’s box had been opened and no one wanted to acknowledge it.

I then felt like more than a name separated us.

They had evidently not been prepared for anything like “legal names” to enter the picture.

But you can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube.

And I couldn’t have the name that made me feel that I was part of them. Which suddenly made all the difference in the world.

My Granny had taken me in when I was just an infant. But she couldn’t give me her name.

I had to start using my “legal” name, even though I didn’t know the people associated with it. It didn’t seem fair.

That was when I first realized that nothing about life was fair.

Children were to sign their name properly with the name listed on their birth certificates. No exceptions.

I didn’t want that name. Or the people who gave it to me. And evidently they hadn’t wanted me either.

A last name that I was stuck with. With questions no one was around to answer.

Still I asked: “But who am I?”

And for way too long, no one answered.

The soul, light as a feather, fluid as water, innocent as a child, responds to every movement of grace like a floating balloon.” – Jean-Pierre de Caussade

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9 Comments

  1. Such a beautiful, heartfelt, wrenching post, Brenda. You are wonderful YOU and all that you have survived. I look forward to your exquisite writing and incredible photographs daily. You are an artist in so many ways. I celebrate you and all that you are. I learn from you every day and enjoy the life stories you share with us. Please know how much you are appreciated and loved by so many.

  2. It was in a public school, and I was in the 4th grade in 1957 when the teacher, sitting at her desk, asked me, sitting at my own desk, and in front of the whole class asked me why my mother’s last name was different from my own. With acute embarrassment, I walked up to her desk and explained that my father had died, and my mother remarried. Too bad there wasn’t “sensitivity training” back then!
    But to answer your question, you are your own person, with the best qualities of your Granny and Grandmother, and that’s all that really matters :-).

  3. My biological father divorced my mother while she was pregnant with me. His name, not my mother’s maiden name, is on my birth certificate, however. When I was four my mother remarried and we moved to a new community where I started school using the last name of my stepfather. My mother would not let him adopt me because my biological father’s family had money and she wanted me to be able to inherit it. Then when I was eight my stepfather died suddenly and we moved to another school district. When I started third grade in the middle of the year there I was enrolled with my stepfather’s last name. Then, at the beginning of fourth grade I was enrolled with my biological father’s name. I was confused and embarrassed when my friends asked me why I had a different name and for a long time I resented having had my last name changed. I got used to it, of course, but I feel like I did suffer some identity confusion because of it, especially because at that time I had never met my biological father or his family. Who were they? And who was I? Also, by the time my stepfather died I had a brother and sister who had his last name and, of course, kept it. I always felt that my name becoming different separated me from them in a way that was uncomfortable.

    So, Brenda, I can relate to your sense of disorientation and confusion about who you really were. Not good for building self-esteem and self-confidence in a little person. Sometimes the adults in charge just didn’t have a clue what havoc their rules and decisions wreaked on children’s self-images. Still don’t in many cases. Sad. Even though I did eventually inherit some money from the biological family, I don’t know if it was worth the childhood angst.

  4. While I understand the legal side of it,I really believe that schools,educators,whatever took liberties that would surely be frowned on today.
    I went to Catholic school,the nuns back in my day,I’m 66,67 in September, born in 1954,never gave a second thought to hitting,sometimes with a brass ruler,or pitching an eraser across the room at someone who wasn’t thought to be paying attention.
    Pretty much everyone has heard the stories of them” breaking” the habit of writing left handed.
    This was pretty much standard operating procedure,they ruled by intimidation.
    Can you imagine a parent putting up with this in today’s world?????
    Same as your awful story,seriously, what difference did what name you were using at 5-7 years old,were you applying for credit,a drivers license,registering to vote????
    I’m sure it would have been just as acceptable to broach this subject when you were old enough to understand better…Good Grief.

  5. Wow Brenda. You should write a book about this. A memoir. But then again, it may be too painful. You have a talent when it comes to writing….and photography m…and gardening. I always look forward to your posts. And if you should ever write that book, I want a signed copy!!!!

  6. There are situations in life that one often finds themself in, where there is NO right answer…you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I am so sorry you found yourself in such when so young…those things are hard even when older!! I think there are many of us who would not have chosen our family of origin…but no one asked us that one. So we make the best lemonade we can, from the lemons we were dealt. I think you very much have done that in your life. I have been helped by my faith and looking forward to the next life…where I will belong as I never have here really. It sounds like your grandmothers did the best they could for you…and that is all anyone can do.

  7. I was born in the 1960s & had my mother’s name but not my dad’s name….they were not married. My dad was married to someone else. I learned on the school bus. Kids can be very vocal, bullying & repeating what they hear their parent say. But thankfully my identity is not in my birth name.
    My husband’s story is similar. His mother had an affair with a married man & got pregnant…or she could have been raped…we have no idea, only that he was married. He didn’t even know that his birth dad was married until recently, after he death. He’d always assumed it was a teenage love affair because she was 19.

    It’s hard to lose innocence no matter how old we grow.

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