In old family photographs you can tell my grandmother didn’t think much of convention.
The hats, the good-natured smirk, the sense of something fun about to happen that can only be called “verve.”
Family stories — some handed down, some I witnessed — bear this out.
Dora was the first in her family to graduate college and kept working as an elementary school teacher after she married.
I can still hear her giddily recall rollerskating into her 1930s classroom, bearing a package of hot dogs for the end-of-school picnic.
She and my grandfather retired to the shore of a good-sized Michigan lake. She’d entertain my cousins and me by swimming across it once a summer — big rubber flowers on her bathing cap flapping.
Her only daughter, my mother, was not going to go through life with just any old name, spelled any old way.
My grandmother named her Marilyn, but spelled it Marylyn, and plopped a random initial with punctuation —J.— in front, like a diver executing a perfect pike.
My mother, not to be outdone, studied her Western Michigan University yearbook and landed on “Mardi” for her only daughter.
Oh, the torment.
Farty stink; Mardi farty had a party; tootie fruity let a beauty, you get the drift.
A brief strategy to default to adding my middle name — instead of a peremptory initial, I’d been saddled with “Jo” — only invited Petticoat Junction comparisons.
As swimmers adjust to a dunk in cold lake water, today I view the name as acceptably bracing.
I’ve also discovered, thanks to the COVID pandammit and social media, that I am not alone.
A private Facebook group, The Mardi Society, has 241 members and counting.
We’re mostly between 40 years old and 70, popular in the Philippines and New Zealand, as I learned during a recent Zoom meeting with half a dozen Mardi’s.
“It’s a name with a bit of verve, doncha’ think?” a Mardi from Melbourne asked.
My grandmother was raised by her stepmother; her own mother died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.
Dora was a teenager then. She lost her mother at exactly the time a girl really starts to come into her verve.
That she never lost hers feels inspiring. I think of my name as a kind of inheritance, a refusal to be diminished by a circumstance arriving without rhyme or reason.
I shared that with the other Mardis.
Some live in the outback, or in the mountains far from any big water.
They got the drift.