My cherished mother turns 71 today. Happy birthday, dear Mother! How I adore you.
She is the best mother on the planet, at least for me. She loves me no matter what and that’s just what a flawed, struggling middle-aged woman like me needs some days.
She is an interesting person in her 70s, but in honor of her birthday today, let’s turn to her early years.
She was born Karen Meleese in 1941 in western North Dakota. You can see by this picture, presumably taken on the farm where she lived, how flat the landscape was.
“Karen” was the 19th most popular girl’s name in America that year, according to the Social Security Administration. It’s her unique middle name, “Meleese,” that fascinates me. Both my sister and I have talked about using that name for a daughter but, alas, I did not bear children and my sister delivered only sons.
“Meleese” comes from a 1910 book by James Oliver Curwood, “The Danger Trail.” My grandfather appreciated language — he loved to read, recited poetry and once sold magazine subscriptions for a living — so I suppose he ran across this uncommon name and committed it to memory, intending to use it at some point.
When my mother was born, he found his use.
Thanks to the World Wide Web, I discovered the character’s name plays a major role in Curwood’s book. Here’s an excerpt:
He stood looking down into her glowing face in silence. Then, “They are gone,” he repeated. “They were the men who tried to kill me at Prince Albert. I have let them go — for you. Will you tell me your name?”
“Yes — that much — now. It is Meleese.”
The name fell from him sharply. In an instant there recurred to him all that Croisset had said, and there almost came from his lips the half-breed’s words, which had burned themselves in his memory, “Perhaps you will understand when I tell you this warning is sent to you by the little Meleese.” What had Croisset meant?
“Meleese,” he repeated, looking strangely into the girl’s face.
“Yes — Meleese — ”
She drew back from him slowly, the color fading from her cheeks; and as she saw the light in his eyes, there burst from her a short, stifled cry.
“Now — you understand — you understand why you must go back into the South,” she almost sobbed. “Oh, I have sinned to tell you my name! But you will go, won’t you? You will go — for me –“
In an album she made for me, Mother mused, “In my dreams about growing up, I was going to live on a ranch in Wyoming and be a cowgirl and change my name to Lovica.”
Whatever you call her — “Karen,” “Karen Meleese,” perhaps “Lovica” — her best name to me is “Mom.”
May you have a blessed day, Mom. I love you!