And now, a little story that tells something about my parents…
I was born Willena Rose Cummins, first child and only daughter of my father.
When I was a small girl, I didn’t like being the only Willena in my entire school. I didn’t know anyone by the name of Rose either, except for my Great Aunt Rose, for whom I was named. I liked Aunt Rose, but saw her as old lady with a very old-fashioned name.
My father was hospitalized off and on for two years before he died of leukemia, when I was 7. A year later my mom remarried. We never regained the stability we had before my father fell ill. For the next ten years we moved EVERY school year. Always in the same town, but flip-flopping among three of the five elementary schools. My stepfather was a kind and generous man, but “friends” at school never let me forget that he was “the town garbage man” and an alcoholic. By the time I reached high school, I knew most of the kids there, but I had no close friends.
All of this emphasized in my mind the fact that I was “different”, and did not fit the mold. Being the only one with my name only magnified all the other differences, and I felt isolated and very much a misfit.
One day when I was about 16, I was complaining to my mom about being the only Willena in a school of 1200 students. I will never forget her response.
Wow. THAT was a slap up the side of the head. Nine years after my father’s death, I still missed him sorely. Even now, 55 years later (he passed away Aug. 3, 1960), there is a hole in my heart because I still miss him. This picture shows my little brothers and me with our Great Aunt Rose, taken at our maternal grandparents’ farm shortly after our father died.
My mom’s simple words turned everything around for me. It didn’t matter any more that I was “the only one”, or that people would mispronounce and misspell my name. I wasn’t “different” any more… I was unique. I had something special and precious, that I would cherish from that day forward. I decided that day that I would name my first daughter Willena, making it a family tradition in honour of my father. When Irene was born, there were three Willena’s… Willena Mae, Willena Rose, and Willena Irene.
They say the sweetest sound to a person’s ear is the sound of his own name. And it’s so important to say it correctly, in the form he prefers.
For example, my name is Willena. Not Willie or Willy or Will. It’s Willena. I could write a book on the numerous pronunciations and spellings people have come up with for my name. Wilena… Willeen… Willene… Willamina… Lowena…Wilma… and the list goes on. My favourite is Wylena…!
I don’t get upset when people get it wrong — especially if I know they don’t do it deliberately. But the fact remains, the sweetest sound to a person’s ear is the sound of his own name. When you are speaking with someone you have just met, use his name. Find out how to pronounce it, and make sure you are saying it correctly. It will mean so much to him, and give him the feeling that he is important to you.
© Willena Flewelling