I’ve never thought of myself as a women’s libber. I was never tempted to join a march or rally since the last time I was a drummer in my high school marching band. (Go Rockets) It was my choice to be a stay-at-home mom and not join the workforce until much later. It’s never been a goal of mine to be on a stage or in front of a microphone for any reason. Ever. That’s just not me. Definitely not a leader, but I don’t always follow very well either, and certainly not remembered or known for playing well with others. I am mostly content in my tiny group of one.
I read an obituary in a newspaper recently, which reminded me of my mom. Not the obit but the way it was titled. Something like Mrs. Bill Smith. What is it about the title Mrs. that bugs the ever lovin snot out of me? I don’t know but it always has.
I remember mom writing checks when I was a kid. Back in my hometown she didn’t have her own checkbook. My parents paid cash for most things so she never carried a purse (how could she survive? Really? She carried keys, a pack of spearmint gum and her wallet. If she was heading out of town to shop, a tube of lipstick. She preferred blouses and slacks with pockets or topped with a shirt jacket to hold her stuff I guess, otherwise how could she manage without at least a small clutch? But if she wanted to write a check in Rock Valley, she’d just ask the clerk who magically produced a blank check bearing the name of Valley State Bank. The checks from the store were not individually numbered, yet somehow mom kept track of that running balance total of their joint checking account in her head. I never recall them arguing about a bank overdraft. She would have been mortified. I think she just kept more in their account than she ever planned on spending.
When I was in school I watched mom sign the few checks she wrote out like this: Mrs. Richard Gerritson. That just seemed wrong. So wrong. Her name was Florence. Why would she write my dad’s first and last name on a check she was signing? Like she was more of a secretary or less of a partner by signing for my dad. I used to tease her about the signature (but it really rubbed me the wrong way). I think it was just the way married women of that era (mom and dad got married in 1942) signed their name. But it wasn’t her name. Why would she do that?
By the time I got married in 1969, I’d decided I would never write Mrs. before my name. Thought I did ‘good’ by taking his last name, I certainly wasn’t taking his first. My name is Denise (though I’ve been called many other colorful monikers, not all of them kind). Please don’t add anything before my given name. Not Ms., Miss or Mrs. Just plain Denise. Or Duh. Better yet, Neese.
About the same time I was taking such a firm stand on my own self-salutations, there was a gal (gal is probably insulting to her, sorry) who was taking on a much bigger platform on women’s issues. Her name was Gloria Steinem. I didn’t pay much attention to her (remember I’m not a marcher or joiner). Hubs and I were newlyweds, broke but happy. We were starting a family. But mom was suddenly taking a bigger interest in what was going on in the women’s movement.
Sometime during the mid-70’s mom dropped the Mrs. Richard on her check signature. She simply signed them Mrs. Florence Gerritson. But this was merely the first baby step in her evolution. There might have been a bit of defiance on her part or maybe just trying to be more independent. But I think her minor assertiveness that was brewing was mostly to honor her paternal grandparents who raised her since she was 2 weeks old when her mom died. She adored both of them. (Mom married in her mid-teens, so maybe she just didn’t get to use that maiden name of hers long enough).
We come from a long line of Dutch folks with lengthy last names. Many Dutch names have 2 words like my married name, Van Berkum. Neither mom’s maiden or married name had 2 words like mine but both names had double letters in them at least once. (Another quirky thing about the Dutch language, double letters appear frequently).
The line on a check blank where you scrawl your ‘John Henry’ is not quite 3 inches long, because many of us have longer, more complicated signatures than Jo Diaz. Mom gave her name and signature a lot of thought over the years. She finally chose to use her full, baptized name plus her married name when signing a check during the last couple decades of her life. That’s 32 letters plus 3 spaces. She filled up the allotted 2-3/4 inch line, then finished with a flourish on the invisible line beneath with almost as many letters on the second line as the first.
Florence Elaine Wanningen Gerritson. What a hoot!
Several years before she passed away mom was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After a few chemo treatments she suffered a stroke which affected one whole side. She was unable to walk alone or sign her name because she was right handed. Dad had a suggestion. He often used ink stamps when he bought Bibles or tracks to pass out to the masses. If someone found one of his Bible’s he’d left (on purpose) somewhere, dad wanted to be available for them if they needed an extra nudge/encouragement before giving their life to Christ, so he added his name, address and phone number in the front or back. Simple and easy to use, the ink stamp sat in its own puddle (inkwell). He just grabbed the small handle and ‘stamp’ his name, sometimes with a small biblical quote like, “He Lives, or Jesus Saves.”
That’s exactly what mom did. She chose one of her cursive, ‘paragraph long’ signatures from a used check as her template when she still had beautiful penmanship. The stamp still took up 2 lines like before, long, tiny and neat. But this was a hit. No more Mrs…