By Erin Burcham Taylor. You can follow Erin and all of her writing on Twitter @erinhbtaylor.
No one gives you a funny look when your middle name is Elizabeth.
The question, “What’s your middle name?” was enough to make me feel like getting up and running for the door during all of the elementary school get to know you games. Sure I could have lied, but I always answered truthfully with “Harbeck.” “It was my grandmother’s maiden name,” I’d quickly add, feeling the need to explain why my parents hadn’t thought of these painful school day situations when they named me.
“You’ll appreciate it when you’re older,” my mother would remind me. I guess she knew best because, after all, Harbeck was also her middle name. Although, I think it’s important to mention that my sister’s middle name is Ann.
My mom was right. I not only accepted Harbeck, but also became proud to share it when people asked me the once dreaded middle name question.
It’s weird how you can have a connection with someone you barely knew, but that’s what developed once I realized that Harbeck was the one thing I could share with a woman I was intended to share birthday parties, shopping trips, and family recipes. Instead, my grandmother became a guardian angel and someone I asked God to take care of during my nightly prayers. Though I was too young to really understand what any of that meant, I knew that she was very special.
I was born on my grandparents’ anniversary. The two were WWII sweethearts in the process of growing old together when my grandma Harriet was diagnosed with cancer. Still, the couple was excited to celebrate their anniversary with the birth of their new granddaughter. And they were optimistic about an experimental treatment to which my grandma was responding well.
A year and a half later, my grandma passed away, long before I could create enough memories to carry in my head. Instead, I only knew her from a few photos and the stories my mom and grandpa would share with me. Though I loved my paternal grandmother, I still felt cheated. I couldn’t help but feel like she and I were supposed to KNOW each other. I was the third grandchild, the first girl, and the only granddaughter my grandmother knew.
Every year on my birthday, my grandpa would bring me a yellow rose. It was my grandmother’s favorite flower. Though I didn’t realize the correlation until I was older, I felt special that he continued to honor her through me. I adored my grandfather and our relationship made me realize that I would have also been equally close with Grandma Harriet.
I remember staring at the black and white photo in our living room of my grandparents on their wedding day … my grandpa in his Air Force uniform, my grandma in a long sleeved, button up satin gown. My mom and aunt had both worn the same dress as brides, and I always thought I’d carry on the tradition.
Throughout my childhood wedding planning, the colors, flowers, and of course the groom had changed over the years, but my grandmother’s dress had always been a part of my big day. As to be expected, when I became engaged in 2010, the 1940’s gown no longer fit my style. Still, it was important to me to find something of hers to wear. I hoped I could wear the dress’s matching veil, but it didn’t fit the outdoor farm wedding I was planning. I was sad, but hoped I could find something that at the very least had been in the Harbeck family.
During a trip to Nebraska to visit my parents for Christmas, my mom took me to the bank downtown to open the family safety deposit box to look at some jewelry she thought I might like for the wedding.
Inside the box of paperwork and old coins lay a faded purple envelope. “I forgot this was in here,” my mom said. It was a U.S. savings bond, purchased in April 1982, a month after my birth. “My parents gave this to you,” she said. “You can have this if you want,” she said. Written on the outside of the envelope was a social security number I didn’t recognize. “I think that was my mother’s,” my mom said. “You should cash it in and use it for your wedding.”
I felt a wave of emotion as I held this final gift from my grandmother. She would never see me grow to become a bride, but at that moment, I knew she had believed in me and had wanted to contribute to my future.
The cash value of the bond was $138, enough to purchase a pair of opal earrings to match a pendant my future husband had given me. I wore them on my wedding day.
After the wedding, my paternal grandma told my mom, “She reminded me of your mom as she walked down the aisle.” It was a compliment too meaningful than to have just been a coincidence.
Some women choose to change their middle name to their maiden name after they get married, but I couldn’t imagine parting with Harbeck. After all these years, it kind of suits me. It’s a constant reminder of a legacy I was lucky enough to inherit.
I don’t have any children, but if I have a daughter, she better be prepared to answer proudly when people ask her middle name.