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Ann Ceronsky

© 2003

By Any Other Name Would Sound As Sweet

She has spent her entire life trying to overcome her name. Refusing to shower, fighting with her brother, and yelling at her parents were a few of her many strategies. She was sure her mother thought Rose was a beautiful, peaceful, and gentle name and expected a beautiful, peaceful, and gentle daughter to match. Rose herself was perplexed at what her parents thought they would get from naming her younger brother Oscar. But perhaps since Rose had been such a disaster, they were trying for some reverse psychology.

Rose felt bad for Oscar already. At only six years old, he had no idea about the Oscar Meier Wiener and Oscar the Grouch jokes that were to come. Rose had just survived her first year of middle school and it hadn't been easy. “Your personality sure does not match your name!” One clueless teacher had told her. She was questioned incessantly on Valentine's Day when she showed up wearing orange instead of the traditional pink or red. When your name is Rose, you avoid those colors, even if it is the day of love. She wondered if when people spoke of her in the future tense, they would refer to her as “Rise” since her name was a verb after all. She thought about the time in third grade when the teacher had asked them to make a family tree. Rose asked her mother about the grandparents she never knew. Her mother’s face had flushed and she told her daughter now was not the time. Rose was forced to leave the branches empty and was sure those two barren branches were to blame for the B she received.

What had her parents been thinking? Who ruins a child's life before she is even born? Because of that name, Rose's life was doomed from the start. Becoming anything less than beautiful and gentle was to deny everything her name stood for. It was going to be a challenge, but she was up for it.

The summer after 6th grade proved to be a continuation of the horrors of middle school. Friendless, Rose was forced to stay at home day after day and watch Oscar as he innocently made friends who would someday make him cry after asking him if he too had a pet worm like Oscar on Sesame Street. It was almost too painful for Rose to watch at times. He was so undeserving of the hell that was to come, so unaware of the teasing that he would be surprised by at first, gradually forgetting, however, there was a time when he did not cry himself to sleep. Helpless to stop it, Rose spent her days watching and silently cursing her parents.

June flew by as it always did and suddenly the dinner table conversation had turned to where the kids wanted to watch the fireworks this year. Oscar had no real basis for his opinion but Rose knew immediately where she wanted to go. Eagle Bluff near their home allowed the onlookers to see the show from eye level. Her aunt had taken her there three years before and the memory of the loud explosions and brilliant lights straight in front of her had never been matched. Of course, she said nothing.

She waited for the nicknames like Rosie or Rose Doll to start. Her parents used these childhood references when they were really desperate for something, anything from her. Her merciless thorns had starved off hugs and affection years ago and verbal requests remained their only plea.

“The Bluff,” she finally spat out not looking up from her untouched chicken. Having read in science this past year about how innocent animals were murdered had made meat hard to eat. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be a vegetarian, but the images of slaughterhouses fresh in her mind usually took care of her appetite. Of course, her parents couldn’t guess the rhyme or reason for anything she did; Rose made sure of that. It was slightly painful for her to watch their varied attempts at communication but it was their fault for being so clueless. Hadn’t they realized that since third grade she had been different? Weren’t they able to make the connection?

“The Bluff it is!” her father exclaimed a tad too enthusiastically.

“May I be excused?”

“Yes, Rose,” her mother sighed. Rose could tell there would be no follow-up questions. They were tired tonight and she wouldn’t even be asked to try her dinner.

The Fourth of July looked like it might be a wash. The sun had been struggling all day to overcome the clouds, but the family was determined. The climb up the Bluff required a few supplies: mosquito repellant, a flashlight for the return trip, and a blanket. Having gathered the necessary materials, the family piled into the Camry for the drive to the base just as the sun began to set.

The hike up Eagle’s Bluff was challenging with a six-year-old and an unusually high density of mosquitoes further annoyed Rose whose shirt was already sticking to her back. This whole name issue had been bothering her even more than usual lately and she didn't know why for sure. As she thought back on the last year of school, she wanted to cry. Middle school was hard enough and she didn’t need this added burden of looking and acting like a flower that symbolizes love. Each step of the climb seemed to pound this realization into her. By the time they reached the peak and she heard her mother’s grateful sigh, she thought the feelings bubbling up inside of her would soon ooze out of her ears, nose, and mouth.

Her father found the “perfect” spot and they all followed obediently behind in some sort of pathetic train. Oscar was whinny and the promise of the show to come when dusk arrived was too far away for him to be quieted. Rose stood back and watched as her father spread out their faded quilt in one powerful motion. Her mother instinctively sat down cross-legged, allowing the canvas sack to fall at her side, pulling Oscar into a tight and playful embrace to distract him for a moment. It worked and he burst into giggles.

“Come sit by us, Rosie,” her mother asked, trying to sound inviting. Rose noticed the use of the nickname and felt her parents eyes traveling over her face in silence as she wondered if they saw what was lurking behind her grayish-blue eyes and flushed face. Tightly pressing her arms to her sides, she unconsciously tried to squeeze out the pain. Her old, dirt stained tennis shoes so firmly planted on the ground presented a challenge to anyone who would try to move her. She was not going over there. Surely, at any moment she would explode. It was inevitable. She was sure of it.


Oscar jumped off his mother’s lap unaware of the tension hanging in the air. Grabbing his sister, he pulled her onto the blanket and plopped himself down into her resistant form.

“Rose Elaine, what is the matter?” her mother asked, not allowing herself to stay silent.

“Rose Elaine?” Rose shot the names back at her. “You don’t even know your own daughter’s name?” Her mother sat perplexed for a moment before realizing her mistake. Rose noticed the downcast eyes and fingers unknowingly fidgeting with blades of grass. She knew something big was coming as her father coaxed Oscar off her lap with the promise of lighting a sparkler.

As her mother’s face lifted, the same grayish-blue eyes that Rose had been given were filled with tears. Rose was taken aback. Surely what she had said was not deserving of tears. Tears made her uncomfortable and mothers were not supposed to cry.

“Come sit by me,” her mother invited and this time, Rose obeyed without protest. “I need to tell you about your name,” she began. Rose wondered how her mother had read her mind but discovered she had not as the story unfolded. “Rose Elaine was my mother. Your grandmother. She died before you were born and it has been too painful for me to talk about all these years. I have never met another woman who I have loved as much as my mother until you were born, and I knew you were deserving of her name. Obviously, your middle name is Elise, not Elaine, after your dad’s mother. I guess I slipped just now. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t happened before.”

Rose’s mind was spinning. She was named after someone? After her grandmother? Since third grade, she had never asked about her mom’s mother because even as a young child, she could feel the pain that had been left by her unexpected death. All she knew was that her grandfather had died when her mother was in college and her grandmother died of cancer before meeting her first grandchild. There were no pictures, no stories, and no invitations to ask the millions of questions Rose had about this powerful yet unspoken presence.

“What was she like?” the words, so familiar from years of dancing around in her head, stuck in her throat.

“Your grandmother was . . . feisty. I guess that is the best word to describe her. She always laughed at the contradiction between her name and her personality. When you think of a Rose, the images that come to mind would not describe your grandmother. She didn’t seem to need any sleep and no matter what life tossed at her, she met it head on. No one could tell her what to do or how to do it. She was a fighter, a changer and a shaker, and ahead of her time in so many ways. She protested against W.W.II and was isolated from many of her friends for it. Most people had a husband or son going off to fight and she wanted nothing to do with it. When the other women her age started dying their hair, she refused, embracing the gray, saying that it was distinguished, deserved, and was to be displayed.” Her mother’s eyes had drifted to Oscar and her dad playing with a sparkler and Rose did not know what to say. Was her mother finished? Should she say something?

Then her mother’s face turned back toward her and she continued softly, “I was devastated when your grandma died before you were born. You would have loved her and she would have adored you. Your father and I had a name picked out for you already, but when I saw you for the first time, after having had such a hard pregnancy, you had fought inside of me for months, and how you came out screaming, I knew I had to name you Rose. It wasn’t even a choice, it was as if part of her spirit had stayed here on earth waiting for you.”

Rose watched as her mother wiped the tears from the corners of her eyes. “I wish I had told you this sooner. It has just been too painful for me to admit that she is gone forever. A part of her lives on in you and I see that every day and it reminds me that she is still here. For some silly reason, I felt that if I told you, you might feel a sense of responsibility to be just like her and I didn’t want you to feel that pressure. Your father and I love you for who you are and you can be proud of the parts of your grandmother that are in you, and I can tell you, she’s in there.”

The two pairs of grayish-blue eyes locked onto each other and Rose wondered if her grandmother had shared this trait. Suddenly, explosions were happening all around them and Oscar and her dad returned to the blanket to enjoy the show. Rose sat there hardly able to focus on the colorful display in front of her. The unanswered questions wanted to tumble out of her mouth all at once but she held them in, knowing that now, there would be many opportunities to ask them.