A lifetime misnomer creates a tale for the Senior Center Forum April contest
|"Emma Winifred Moyle?" The clerk peered over his glasses at the impatient queue on the other side of the roped-off area with its commanding, 'WAIT HERE until called forward' sign. It was almost laughable how perfectly the officious little man fitted the stereotypical image of a long-term, dedicated Government employee. The hair on his near balding head was swept graciously across his scalp like a sparse bird wing, and though his chin was billiard ball smooth, tufts of white hair peered out from his large ears; and a few more from his nostrils. His specs threatened to slip off the end of his nose at any moment, but thanks to those ears, they were most secure.
A well-dressed, elderly woman stepped forward with a small acknowledging wave of her hand, raising her chin and her eyebrows simultaneously as if to give herself extra height, and perhaps... presence? Quite bravely, although a small quiver could be detected in her voice, she said, "Uhhm-m...yes and no."
The clerk's frown was formidable as was his increased volume and tone. "WELL? Which is it…? MADAM."
* * * * * *
Clearing her throat and determinedly 'keeping her cool', my 80 year old mother told us how she replied to what she saw as his insolence. In her most perfectly refined tone of voice, she said "You've made a mistake, d-e-a-r. My names are the wrong way around. It's Winifred Emma. Has been all my life." And she demonstrated how she gave him her sweetest, patient and understanding smile.
The clerk drew himself up pompously. "MADAM! The Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages does NOT make mistakes... OR 'get names the wrong way around' as you say." Mum said he quivered with indignation, first lifting his chin with a deeply turned down mouth, and then peering over the top of his glasses with great disdain as he plucked the document back from her. Holding it between his index finger and thumb as though it was suddenly unclean, he glanced at it once again, then shoved it back to her side of the glass partition. "THIS is how your birth was registered and THIS is who you are! Don't you see, it's signed by a parent of the newborn? Your father, I do believe!", and his finger stabbed at the signature at the bottom of her birth certificate.
My mother looked in disbelief at her father's deliberate and careful signature. It had been so many decades since she'd seen it. Not since she was a teenager, in fact. But who could ever forget that beautiful, strong penmanship; light upward stroke, heavy downward, on a perfect slant, with that inimitable flourish at the end? Almost a complete circle around the whole name, with a lonely dot out to one side. There was no denying the validity of that signature or the name her father had chosen to register her beginnings on that long ago day.
Later, puzzling over this bizarre discovery, she would have an unexpected epiphany. "Ohh-h-h, I know... I do... I really do!" She shocked herself by speaking out loud to nobody there.
Her father had loved the name Emma, while her mother far preferred Winifred. Once again, Mum told us, she could hear her mother's voice telling of her firm instructions to her husband about registering the birth. Instructions given from her hospital bed, within an hour or so of Mum's entrance into the world. Left to his own devices, the patriarch of the family secretly made his indelible mark.
It would turn out it was not only indelible, but also absolutely Incredible that the replaced name was never questioned for eight decades of her life; would not even have been discovered until her death, had she not required a birth certificate copy to get her passport. All those decades, she had never needed physical proof of birth and had, instead, lived with her mistaken identity. Many legal documents bore her 'incorrect' signature – including her marriage certificate, of all things. What an ironic situation for this most honest of women, totally dedicated to 'doing the right thing'.
Yet another extraordinary event in what my mother called a perfectly 'ordinary' life.
April ideas: •Records & Information Management Month