Names Matter

It was a year ago that you came into the world, Vera Kay. My, how time flies.

Today is for a retrospective. We didn’t know your name before you were born. It was a closely guarded secret. Your parents proved they could keep a secret.

So the first we were aware of your name was when we entered the room not long after your delivery. It was written on the board opposite your mother’s bed. I like you first name, but my attention immediately gravitate to your middle one. It was a special moment.

Shortly thereafter, I wrote the following note to your parents. I thought I’d share it with you today (with some names redacted to respect others’ privacy). When you’re old enough, I’ll tell you more about your great-grandmother Kay. This can be a jumping off point.

This is what I wrote to your dad and mom:

I keep thinking how fortunate Vera is to have parents like you. What a life she is going to have!

I also wanted to comment on her middle name. I can’t speak for your mom, but I can express how much it means to me.

Kathleen “Kay”, your grandmother, died from a heart attack while vacationing in Hawaii, just two months before you were born, David [Vera’s dad]. So she never saw you and you never had the privilege of getting to know her. That’s unfortunate because she was an amazing person. And I know she was looking forward to holding you in her arms.

She was a humble, kind person who taught kids her entire life. Indeed, she taught your grandparents ([your great-grandparents]) in a one-room country school house. Late in her career, she taught your Uncle Randy.

I recall her sitting at the kitchen table at her house, a cigarette in one hand and a cup of Nescafé in the other. She repeatedly tried to kick the smoking habit, without success. She was ashamed of it. She would never allow her students to see her smoking.

She had a terrible sense of direction, but somehow managed to get us to the shore one summer. I recall her stopping in Wilmington, Delaware and asking for directions. It’s amazing we got there. She’d forget where she parked her car when shopping at the mall. But most of her life was spent in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. You didn’t need a good internal compass to navigate that rural county.

I recall Kay saying she wanted to stay up to watch the 11 o’clock weather. I don’t think she ever made it. More often than not, she fell asleep on the coach, snoring loudly no less.

But it wasn’t her habits or vocation that defined her. It was her heart. Her’s was as pure as any I’ve encountered in my entire life. Generosity and goodness consumed Kay’s soul.

Many of her students were very poor. She helped them, quietly and behind the scenes, in any way she could. Kay never did anything to bring attention or praise to herself.

I never heard her gossip or speak ill of anyone.

I recall your Uncle Mike calling her Kay. I’d never heard anyone call their mother by their first name and thought it was weird and amusing. But you could tell the name, when spoken by Mike, was filled with love.

She was like a mother to me. She never did anything to hurt me. I loved her immensely and miss her more deeply than anyone who has passed from this earth. The day we learned she had died in her sleep was one of the darkest of my life.

I know Kay wasn’t perfect. But more than once I’ve described her as an angel.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. The angelic spirit that lived within Kay also lives within your mother [your grandmother, Vera].

And now Kay’s memory will stay alive through the life of Vera. That means a lot to me.

Blessings to you and Vera.

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