What’s in a name?

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It’s amazing how your mind keeps and stores memories.  I guess it’s easy to understand how the great and bad ones are always available to pop up at any given moment.  I’m just curious on where the seemingly non-significant ones go?  Why do the harmless everyday (maybe at times boring) ones seem to get lost in the mental land of the forgotten?  Many times these can turn out to be the best ones because it’s a reminder of when life was safe and uncomplicated.

Somehow one of these underrated memories fought its way to the top of the others in my mind and demanded its place in my thoughts…

I love a good yard sale.  Heading out early on a Saturday morning with a cup of coffee in hand and cash in my pocket.  Ready to hunt and bargain for unknown treasures that lie ahead completely excites me.  I know I know I’m a dweeb but I’m okay with it.  The only thing that beats yard sales is a swap meet, but you may also know it as a flea market.  Walking around a large area dedicated to treasure hunting just makes my heart happy.  I’ve been this way since my childhood.  One of my favorite places to go was Greyhound Park.  It’s located in Phoenix and is the home of dog racing for over 55 years.  My interest however wasn’t in watching dogs race, but what took place within the parking lot on the weekends.  On Saturday and Sunday Greyhound Park transformed into Phoenix Park-n-Swap.

It is over 30 acres with over 1000 vendors selling their wares.  My kind of heaven and a place where I would get lost for hours trying to decide what lucky items would come home with me.  It was a mission I took very seriously and I’m sure had to aggravate my parents to no end.  Why?  Because I took my time looking at each time displayed within the sellers designated parking spaces.  There was even a section of the parking lot that had mini-warehouses for serious vendors who sold large quantities each week.   It took me even longer to browse through this area.

We often made this trip together as a family and it felt good to be together.  I remembered walking up and down each row anxious to see what awaited me.  The smell of carnival type food being sold along with the hundreds of other people shopping helped complete the experience.  Every once in a while I would turn around and see my mom, dad, brother and sister walking and talking behind me.   As crazy as it sounds I loved the fact that it was impossible to see the end of the swap meet when I started at row 1 – it was just that big!  It was a picture of a perfect Saturday in my book.

I always looked forward to the reaching the halfway point too.  There was a man who played an accordion with a little monkey that sat on his shoulder.  This cute little monkey was dressed in an adorable suit with a tiny flat, straw hat.  I always remembered to bring coins and snacks, because this cute little creature would hop off the man’s shoulder and grab the money and the food out of my hand.  Nowadays PETA would have a field day with this scene, but back then it was a magical experience.  It’s memories like these that easily get shoved into the back of the line.  Great memories flaunt its tail like a peacock and demands to be noticed.  The bad memories sucker punches the regular ones (like this one) way in the back of my mind…

My story actually begins 15 days before the end of the year 1969.  I was a December baby and an early present for my mom and dad who were both first time parents.  As happens with all parents with a newborn baby I’m sure they were overwhelmed with round the clock feedings and the other required care.  I can only imagine how exhausted they must have felt only one week later on Christmas morning.  My mom told me a funny story about my birth.  She was young and scared about the actual birth process.  I mean who wouldn’t be?  She knew how babies were delivered but didn’t know exactly what to expect each step of the way.  I was born in a Catholic hospital and during this time nuns would visit expectant mothers.

So while my mom was lying in her hospital bed a nun walked into the room and saw my mom was terrified and tried to console her.  She said giving birth is a very natural process and there isn’t anything to be scared about.  My mom then asked her how many children she had given birth to and until then didn’t want to hear another word from her.  The nun looked surprised and offended at her words and walked out.  My mom didn’t have anyone to turn to about her fears since it was during a time when mothers and daughters didn’t speak of these things.   At least in her family.  It was something that years later would carry over into our relationship too.

I was also told that the day I was born was a proud moment for my father.  So much so that I was named after his mother.  My mom wanted to name me Christina – a name that she would pretend was hers for a period in her life.  She went from being Frances to Christina with strangers she had just met. So now my parents were not in agreement with what I should be called but in the end my father won – and I was named Bita.  My grandmother died shortly before I was born so I missed the opportunity to know her.  My father never told me much about her – in fact growing up there wasn’t even a picture of her in our home.  Once I visited my grandmothers grave that read the name: Vita Lopez.  I always believed her name was Bita Sanchez Galvan-Lopez.  I asked my father about it and the only information he offered was that it was a mistake.

For many years I struggled with my name. Bita. B-I-T-A.  I often tell people I meet “It’s Rita with a B” and it seems to help them remember.  It was different and odd and I didn’t like it.  I always knew when my name would be called by a teacher or nurse or someone new, because that person would always hesitate before trying to say my name.  It still happens to this very day.  Back then I believed that odd name was a reflection of me.  I just wanted to be a Jennifer or a Linda and just blend in.  I wanted to be able to find my name on a key chain like everyone else.  Do you know how much anxiety it brings an introvert to stand out?  Let me tell you as a child it wasn’t easy.  It took me many, many years to finally embrace my unique namesake.  Now I can’t imagine having any other name and really wish I could have known my Nana Bita.

Last September I happened to be in Scottsdale and drove past Green Acres Cemetery where my grandmother is buried.  I turned the car around and went to try to find her gravestone.  I hadn’t been there since I was in elementary school and hoped I could remember where I could find it.  I parked the car in a cul-de-sac like road that was close to McClintock Road.  My fading memory told me she was close to the main road.  The shining sun was out in full force and it was hot, but I was on a quest and didn’t let it deter me.  Since I was parked halfway in between the length of gravestones that lined the wall close to McClintock Road – I decided to start in the middle and walk left looking at each name written on the stones. It’s so easy to get caught up in the names and ages of people – that I had to force myself to concentrate and not get distracted.  I walked almost all the way to the end and realized I didn’t remember her being so far out in this area – so I went back to my starting point and began to walk in the other direction.

I literally took five steps and found it!  I couldn’t believe it – there it was right in front of me.  A simple, small rectangular, gray marker with an engraved lily flower on each side that read: Mother – Vita S. Lopez, 1924-1968.  My grandmother was younger than I am right now when she died – she was only 44 years old.  So heartbreaking.  I stood there under the blazing sun and just stared at her name.  My heart ached because in that moment all I wanted was to be able to talk to her.  That was the first time in my life I ever felt that way.  Although we shared the same name I’ve never felt a connection to her.  Tears welled up in my eyes and I thought “I wish you could tell me what happened to my dad.  I need to understand why he closed his heart to me.”  I then wondered is she the reason he can be cold and ugly towards me?  I’ve only heard people speak well of her my entire life but I just didn’t know.  Do I want to hug her or slap her?  I honestly don’t think I will ever find out that answer.

I can’t tell you why I chose to visit my grandmother that day.   I think the little girl in me wanted to sit in her lap and bury my head in her shoulder for a minute.  I needed to be told that everything was going to be okay and things would work out in the end.  I’m 46 and I know that my grandmother isn’t in that cemetery.  I merely stood in a place where her physical body was buried.  My relationship with her never existed because death took her way too soon.  It was stolen from us.  I said things I never planned to say and hoped somehow that message would get to her.  I don’t really know how heaven works.   In some oddly strange way that I can’t explain – this visit was healing for me.  It was if my soul opened a backpack of brokenness and loss and I pulled out a few of those bricks I carried and left them at her grave.

In the end it was a very good day that I hope to never forget.

 

 

 

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