Ma Goes American
Friday evening, Minche marched into the kitchen, her newly bobbed hair - Clara Bow style - shining under the bare overhead light bulb.
"Ma, I'm going to change my name," she said, and put her arm around Ma.
Ma, an apron tied over her Sabbath blouse, tucked into her long black skirt, was stirring a pot of chicken soup with a wooden spoon. Steam from the bubbling pot moistened her face, and strands from her long auburn hair escaped from the bun on the back of her head.
Ma gasped at the news.
"Daughter," Ma said, stepping back from her embrace and setting down her spoon. "I didn't mind when you cut off your beautiful hair to be modern. Or when you stopped eating my potato pancakes, because you said you were getting too fat and it wasn't the American style. But this idea of changing your name I don't like. After all, you were named after my great-aunt Minche, may she rest in peace," Ma said. "Anyway, everybody calls you 'Min.' "
"But Ma," Minche insisted, "at work my friends say that 'Minche' or 'Min' isn't American, and when new friends hear my name, I'm ashamed, because they think I'm a greenhorn. My friends have started to call me 'Mildred' or 'Milly' for short. Besides, remember when I stayed overnight with my friend Alice Weinberg, on the West Side? Well, I went out on a blind date, and Alice introduced me as 'Milly.' "
"Minche, I understand that you want to be more American. But to change your name would dishonor my great aunt."
"The last thing I would want to do is insult Minche." Minche hugged Ma and kissed her. "Underneath my new name I would still be Minche. Sort of like when I see you change my pillowcase. The pillow is still the same, only the outside has changed."
"Let me think about it. Even if it is your America, there are things I have to think about."
AFTER the following week's Friday-night dinner of gefilte fish, chicken soup with knaidlach, and Ma's roast chicken, Ma asked the family to stay seated at the table. She walked over and stood behind Minche's chair and poked her lovingly.
"Children, I thought over what Minche said about our names. My smart daughter knows the best way to be American. After I realized that it's no shame to the memory of our family if we have new names, my daughter helped me choose new American names. Our Jewish names will still be there, only they will be covered by our new names."
Ma stood up behind her chair at the head of the table.
"If Pa was home for our Sabbath dinner, he would be the one to bless us and say grace. But Pa is working late as usual, and we'll surprise him with our new Yankee Doodle names. So the honor of saying grace is mine. However, tonight our blessings will not only be for our Sabbath meal but our new American names."
Ma walked over to each of my sisters and brother, and with her hands extended over our heads, according to tradition, she said the blessing, "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who grants us life and sustenance and has permitted us to celebrate this happy occasion. Amen."
"Tamara, your name in English shall be 'Toby.' "
My sister Tamara, who was dawdling with her Jell-O, said, "OK, Ma, on the outside I'll be 'Toby.' But you can still call me 'Tamara' at home."
"Mirryl, our youngest girl, you shall be called 'Marion,' " Ma said.
"Yossel, our baby brother, his new name will be 'Joseph.' " When she reached me, she continued, "My first-born American boychick, Yankelle, was already named 'Jack' by his saxophone teacher."
"Ma, how about Pa?" I piped up.
"Don't you remember the story of how Pa gave up his name 'Maishe' for 'Morris,' when he named his shoe store after himself?"
"Let's not forget your name, Ma," Milly said.
"I didn't forget. As usual, when my daughter Mildred - who is the oldest, the most Americanized, and the most educated in the family, with her two-year commercial high school diploma - makes a suggestion, I listened.
"I decided I'm going to have a real American name: Betsy. My Jewish paper wrote that it was a Betsy Ross who designed the American flag. So now, Mildred, I'm even more Yankee Doodle than you.
"But your mutter will still be 'Bruche' at home."