Wednesday, May 13, 2020


This evening before bed I read my children a little book I made called Roots and Branches. There aren't a lot of words in it but that's okay because I can tell the stories to them...for now (though I suppose I should make a book with more words in it eventually). Instead there are pictures of ancestors (along with brief statistics: birth, death, and marriage dates).

We were flipping through and looking at the pictures and I was telling stories while the kids asked questions and made comments. Benjamin felt the need to cast judgement on every single name in the book and when we got to my grandma he wrinkled up his nose.

"Pearl?" he said. "Don't like that."

"Why, thank you," I said.

"Why are you thanking me?" he asked. "It's an ugly name."

"It's my middle name," I informed him. "I am named after my grandma."

"Oh," he stammered. "Well, it's alright for a middle name, I guess. But to go by that name every day? Just...why?!"

"Technically Pearl was her middle name, too," I said.

"What?!" he asked.

"Yes, look," I said, pointing to the text box containing the barest bones of her life details. "Her name was Zetta."

"Zetta?!" he echoed, completely dumbfounded.

"Zetta Pearl," I affirmed. "But she went by Pearl."

"Yeah, good call," he said. "Pearl's way better than Zetta!"

I...actually disagree. I could never understand why my grandma didn't go by Zetta and I really didn't like the name Pearl. It's just Earl with a P tacked on front (and to make matters worse, one of my grandma's brothers was named Earl...who even does that?! (My great-grandparents, that's who)). It's just, like, not a pretty name.

And who wants to be named after what is basically an oyster kidney stone? Gross. Pearls are the worst birthstone. They also happen to be my birthstone. I spent a good portion of my life detesting pearls.

I don't so much anymore, however. I understand their beauty and value.

And the name has grown on me through the years. In fact, I rather appreciate it now. I enjoy wearing something my grandma wore so well. Almost it convinces me that we should have named our children after ancestors (but...we didn' least not the girls (sorry, girls (the real reason was simply that I felt too much pressure to make everyone happy by naming baby after them that I just decided we wouldn't name baby after anyone (is that silly? Probably))).

Truth be told I'm actually quite happy with my middle name now but when I was Benjamin's age I really didn't like it one bit (I'm not even afraid to say that out loud because you should hear my mom talk about how much she disliked her middle name when she was growing up) so I thought it was funny that he also found it so repulsive (though, to be fair, there were several other names he couldn't wrap his head around either).

Anyway, I was telling my children the stories of the people in the pictures—all the hardships they faced—and the kids started picking up on the evening's theme. I know this because when I turned the page to feature yet another set of great-grandparents Benjamin asked, "Do these people have a tragedy, too?"

"Actually...they do!" I said and I told him the story of how Erma perished shortly after a car accident and how hard that was for everybody. I had him calculate some of the dates (she'd only been married for ten years and her little twins were just five years old when she died) and the kids were pretty upset about that.

"Then why do they look so happy?" Zoë asked. "She's just beautiful!"

"She is, isn't she?" I agreed. "But, of course, this picture was taken before the car accident when she was alive and well and, yes, happy. And it is so sad that she had to die so young and leave her little kids and husband behind. And they were all so sad to say goodbye to her. But look! See this picture over here. This picture was taken a few years later."

"They still look happy," Zoë noted.

"They are still happy," I said. "You can always find happiness. Happiness doesn't mean missing someone less and it doesn't mean that life is easy. You can find happiness even when life is really, really hard."

"That's good to know," Benjamin said.

"It really is," I said, and then I turned the page to reveal another set of grandparents.

"Do they have a tragedy?" he eagerly wanted to know.

"Actually," I said, "They do!"

"So many tragedies!" Zoë moaned.

Yes. So many tragedies.

And yet...each sufferer miraculously turned those pesky tragedies into a pearls. They let them irritate them a bit but then, ever so slowly, they learned to work magic around the tragedy, shaping it into a thing of beauty. They allowed that thing to help them be gentler, wiser, and better than they were before. So perhaps not such a tragedy after all. 


  1. How beautiful! It is interesting to me how those old names have come back. I know of a little girl named Pearl and a little girl named June. Nancy is an old name, but, in my opinion, a pretty one. But I don't know any little Myrnas!! What a lovely thing you are doing telling your children ancestor stories!

    1. I also know of a little June and a little Pearl! How funny!

      (Technically it's Anne-Perle, one of our French friends from our Cairo day's little girl, and June is the daughter of one of the girls who went to Russia with me). :)

  2. One of our local news people has a Pearl Monroe whom they often call Roe Roe. Their children all have family names and their daughters have double first names. (Carson Parry is the oldest child. Their son born April 1 is Franklin Reeves (both family names as well)).

    Otherwise I can't think of any other little Pearls at the moment.

    In my mom's family. Rose is the family name that a lot of the daughters/cousins got.

    I like how Benjamin was critiquing the names. Sounds like something I would do! :)

    Reading about the twins who lost their mom when they were only five made me think of my grandfather who was 4 when his mom died after giving birth to his sister. It's fresh on my mind because I was reading through papers he wrote just yesterday and one of the topics was his mom's death. My grandfather was such a joyful person so I'm glad this tragedy didn't leave a last depression on him, and when he died, I actually LOVED the thought of his reunion with his mom after 82 years apart!

  3. Jason's great grandma was nammed Nettie Jane. They certainly have interesting names back then. I know you grew to love the name Pearl. You always threw it out there when I was looking for names. My birthstone is an opal. As a kid I always hated it. I wanted a diamond or something. Now I appreciate it's beauty. All my kids are named after a family member...if not in their first name in their second. Jason's professor teased us about how Jewish that was....he's Jewish. It just felt nice I guess, but yes there is this weird thing where you worry about number to your family versus number to your spouse. E is named after Jason. G shares my middle name and my mom's name. S Jane is named after Jason's grandma Jane. A is named after Jason's mom Linda who said for the love of God don't give her my we named found a name with Lin in it. My dad's family also all call her Eileen and think she is named after my grandmother Ellena. You'd need to do a variation on that because every one of my aunts and uncles plus my dad named one kid that 🤣 She's also kind of named after me. When Jason and I first started dating we read the little Prince to eachother and Jason said...."oh my, you are my Rose". Since she and I have similarly demanding personalities. It maybe isn't the most flattering of comparisons but the book has stayed prominent in our marriage and her middle name is Rose. It seemed appropriate since she spent so much of her early life behind "glass". Sambers is named after my favorite uncle and my favorite cousin Sammy (she's a girl). It doesn't hurt that he is also a great literary character and a biblical/book of mormon character. My own uncle was named for Samuel the Lamanite, and when I was trying to decide if I should try for one last baby after all the trauma of A's birth and the miscarriage that followed I often read the story of Samuel in the Bible. I always loved and hated it. To pray so hard for something and then basically give that little one entirely over to the Lord, Samuel's mother was fascinating. His middle name is also Jason's grandpa's name. I wanted to name a kid after my grandmother who I loved fiercely but her name was Florence Gertrude and it seemed cruel to saddle a kid with either of those names. My sister is also name Flo and if she had a dollar for the amount of times someone said, "just go with the flow," to her, she'd have a lot of dollars 🤣

    1. That was so interesting, Crystal!! When I was a little girl, I really liked the Bobbsey twins--those were very old books (started in 1904) and one of the sets of twins were Freddy and Flossie. Flossie being short for Florence. So--you could have had a Flossie! :o)