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What's in a Name?by: Heidi
It was a typical October day in Vancouverit was raining. Heidi walked up the hill looking for number 344, the offices of the local newspaper, while also trying to avoid the puddles on the sidewalk.
"I still can't believe that I'm finally doing it!" Heidi thought to herself. "Today is the day."
The light turned red and Heidi had to wait. She thinks back to that day
It was the summer of 1957. Hans Meyer was lying on the carpet in the living room with his head close to the speakers of the radiogram. On the turntable was one of his favorite long-playing records, Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmuzik". School was out and the summer lay ahead. Hans had just completed grade 7 and his older sister, Anna, grade 12. She had found a job for the summer so Hans would be alone with his mother. This did not bother him at all as he was a bit of a loner and quite enjoyed simply reading, listening to music or helping his mother around the house. In fact he was hoping to go to the library when his mother went to town later in the morning.
"Stop dreaming and get yourself ready, Hans. I want to leave for town in a few minutes!" shouted Mrs. Meyer from the kitchen.
"I'm coming, Mutti, the record is nearly at the end", replied Hans.
Not that Mrs. Meyer was really in a hurry but she knew from experience how her son could get lost in his dream world. She often wondered what his dream world was like. Mrs. Meyer was a school teacher, a good one, a teacher with love and understanding. When the children were younger, she had to teach to supplement the family income. She took Hans with her as she could not afford a baby-sitter. Hans seem to cope so well with the work, even though he was two years younger than the other kids, that the principal allowed him to continue to the next grade at the end of that year.
"I would like to pop into Stacey's before dropping you off at the library. They have a summer sale on and I thought I could perhaps get you one or two T-shirts for the summer you have been growing so fast lately!"
"Gee thanks, Mutti, that will be nice", replied Hans.
Hans liked going to Stacey's, the local department store, with his mother. Particularly because they would usually have milkshakes afterwards!
His mother was right, he had been growing taller lately! Being two years younger than his classmates, he was never really included in their games. He was not bullied or anything, he just did not fit in. His only friends were his sister and Mary, and they have grown so fast that he had been feeling rather small. But now he would be catching up.
While his mother was driving towards town, Hans stared out of the window into the distance. He really missed Mary Smith. Mary was the neighbor's daughter. She was two years older than Hans and over the years they had become close friends. She would often come over in the afternoons and they either listened to records or would make music together, Mary on the piano and Hans played the recorder. But now she was staying with her aunt in the city so that she could attend a high school with a good music program.
"A penny for your thoughts, Hans", prompted Mrs. Meyer when she noticed that her son had gone to his dream world again.
"I was just thinking how much I miss Mary, Mutti. We always did so many things together in the vacations", sighed Hans.
"Yes, so do I", replied Mrs. Meyer, trying to sound encouraging. She was also very fond of Mary. The two kids got on so well together and they were always so willing to help her. She had taught them to bake biscuits, make jams and arrange flowers. Last summer she taught them to sew and knit. Yes, the three of them have really had some fun times ...
"Well here we are at Stacey's. If we hurry on we could stop for milkshakes afterwards!" offered Mrs. Meyer, hoping that that would cheer them up.
They headed straight for the escalator that would take them to the children's clothes. As the escalator slowly brought them up to the floor, Mrs. Meyer was looking around to see if she could spot the T-shirts that she had seen advertised in the morning paper. She easily recognized the display area where Stacey's had put out all the items that were on sale and they quickly walked across.
"Oh look at this dress, Hans! Isn't it just beautiful?" exclaimed Mrs. Meyer as held up the party dress that she had discovered. Hans had also been looking at it. It was a long cotton dress with a pretty floral pattern. What really made it special were the collar and cuffs that were made of an exquisite lace.
"This is just the kind of dress that Mary would have liked," mused Mrs. Meyer as she pressed the dress against her cheek to get the feel of the material. "It's a pity your sister is grown up already, I would so love to buy this!"
"You could buy it for me, Mutti", Hans thought aloud without realizing. In his dream world he too would be wearing this beautiful dress. With all his soul and passion he had dreamed about a dress like this!
"What was that, Hans?" exclaimed Mrs. Meyer, quite startled.
Hans was even more shocked when he realized that he had actually spoken his thoughts. He had never let anyone into his dream world before. He just knew his father would give him the spanking of his life. A Meyer-boy had to be tough.
"I, I uh I meant I uh ... could then send it to Mary as a gift", stammered Hans as he tried to think of a way to cover up his mistake.
Mrs. Meyer stared at her son in amazement. His face was flushed and he was trembling. As a teacher she had learned to watch out for a child's reactions as this could reveal much more than their words. She began to understand that she had gotten a first glimpse of Hans' dream world. She knew that now was the time to find out more.
"Hans, now that is a kind thought! But I wonder if it will fit? Why don't we take it to the change room so that you could try it on you and Mary are just about the same size now." suggested Mrs. Meyer while watching Hans' reaction closely. Hans was shaking visibly now. With downcast eyes he could only manage a soft: "Yes, Mutti". She took the dress and walked towards the change rooms, while Hans followed behind. A thousand thoughts raced through his head like a team of horses, his heart pounded as if it would burst out of his chest.
Once inside, Mrs. Meyer told Hans, as matter-of-factly as she could, to take off his shoes, T-shirt and trousers.
"Now close your eyes and lift up your arms!" she instructed and then slipped the dress over her son's head. It had been such a long time that she had dressed a little girl, she thought as she fastened up the buttons on the back, but dress her son she could never have imagined that! She quickly straightened the dress and turned Hans around to face the mirror.
"OK, you can open your eyes now! Do you think Mary would like it?"
Hans could not believe his eyes. He was totally flabbergasted the dress was so beautiful!
"Oh Mutti, it is beautiful, I just love it!"
Hans was lost in his dream world. He did not even realize that he had not answered his mother's question. Mary was not even in his thought any more. Oh, how he had longed all his life to wear a dress, and now it was the most beautiful dress in the world! But Mrs. Meyer was watching, slowly shaking her head to and fro as she was trying to make sense of what she was observing. Then she made up her mind.
"Then we'll take it. But the dress fits you so beautifully, wouldn't you like to keep it on 'til we get home?" probed Mrs. Meyer.
Hans didn't know what to say. The very thought of being allowed to wear the dress home..... Then he could not keep it in any more. He simply grabbed his mother around the waist, buried his face in her bosom and sobbed quietly. They just stood there for a long while without saying anything. Mrs. Meyer hugged her son and stroked his hair. She understood.
"There, let's dry your eyes. Of course, we will need to buy some shoes as well. Just look how silly your old sneakers look with your new dress! " They both started laughing as they looked at the sneakers in the mirror they really looked run-down and were coming apart at the seams.
Without waiting for a reply, Mrs. Meyer took Hans by the hand, picked up his old clothes and walked over to the shop assistant. "My daughter likes the dress so much, she would like to keep it on. Do you have any shoes to match?"
"Of course Madam, this way please," replied the lady and, turning to Hans: "You really look pretty, Miss. The dress brings out the color of your hair and your eyes."
Hans felt very self-conscious. He could feel that he was blushing uncontrollably. But his mother's gentle squeeze of his hand reassured him. He straightened the skirt of his dress before he sat down to fit the shoes he had imagined himself doing it so often in his dream world that it was a natural gesture now. Mrs. Meyer noticed.
The lady had selected a pair of plain black open shoes with strap around the ankle and a little gold buckle on the side. She also brought a pair of white socks with dainty lace ribbing at the top. "These will complement your dress see how the lace matches your cuffs and collar."
Hans put them on and walked up and down before the mirror. He felt so happy. He took his mother by the hands and implored: "Can we buy them Mutti? Please!"
"Of course, Heidi!" replied Mrs. Meyer with a smile.
Hans stood back shocked, his face deeply flushed. "Mutti!.....", but he could find no words. Somehow, whether it was her mother's instinct or her experience as a teacher, Mrs. Meyer knew he would like to be called Heidi. Ever since her children had been small she had to read them the story of Heidi. Hans had literally begged his sister to let him hang up the picture of Heidi in his room. How often had Hans dreamed about the picture. He loved her pretty dress with the white apron. He had imagined himself playing on the Alps, collecting flowers and running after the goats.
"Yes, we'll take them. Would you mind putting the sneakers in the box in stead?" said Mrs. Meyer to the sales assistant. After she had paid, she took the parcels now containing the old clothes, turned to Hans and took him by the hand: "Come on, Heidi, we need to have your hair attended to. This tomboy look does not really suit your new dress."
Mrs. Meyer was walking quite fast. She knew if she could get to the hairdressers early they might still get in without an appointment. Hans was holding her hand tightly. He was half walking, half running to keep up. He listened to the tapping sound of his new shoes on the sidewalk as he hopped and skipped alongside his mother. It was just as he had imagined it. He was happy. Then they turned into the hair salon.
Hans had never been in a hair salon before. Having his hair cut had always been a traumatic experience. He had his first haircut when he was three years old and his father insisted that his son was now old enough for a "short back and sides" as he called it. Hans had cried and struggled but to no avail. His father simply picked him up on to the plank that the barber had put on the chair. Then the horrible barber started to cut off all his beautiful hair. Hans could still remember the man's yellow teeth, yellow-stained mustache and fingers, and how much his breath stank. And all the other men waiting in the barber shop laughed.
For a long time afterwards Hans had bad dreams causing him to wake up screaming. He was so upset every time he had to have his hair cut at the barber, that his mother took over and cut his hair at home. Even then he always tried to make excuses to postpone the next haircut for as long as possible or until his father said: "Gretchen, my son's hair is too long!" Then it was law inevitably his mother would take him to the kitchen right away and off it came.
"Hello Mrs. Jennings. This is my daughter, Heidi. I know we don't have an appointment but could you perhaps squeeze her in? You know I have always done her hair myself but she is growing up now", asked Mrs. Meyer trying to look pleading and apologetic at the same time.
"Of course, we are not very busy yet", replied the stylist. "Hi, Heidi. You have a pretty dress on. But look at your hair! No offense, Mrs. Meyer, but really it is a mess." Mrs. Jennings looked at Hans' hair from all sides. "I will have to cut quite a bit off. But I know just the style to go with your dress. Please sit over here, Heidi, and lean back. We need to shampoo your hair before we can cut it."
Hans loved every minute. He loved the smell of the shampoo, the kind yet firm way Mrs. Jennings rubbed it into his scalp and the delicate smell of her perfume while she worked next to him. Hans had never felt so special before. He had not noticed that his mother had quietly slipped out of the salon.
"There, you can sit up now", said Mrs. Jennings as she turned a towel around his head like a turban. Just like his sister always did, reflected Hans. Then Mrs. Jennings dried the hair with towel and started to comb it out gently. With deftness that comes with experience she started cutting while Hans watched in the mirror. Then the door opened and Hans was surprised to see his mother coming in. She said nothing but she was smiling mysteriously.
"I've cut her hair short to get it the points the same length. But in this page style it will still look quite long", explained Mrs. Jennings as she started to dry the hair. She then curled the fringe and the hair at his neck with a curling iron. Hans was ecstatic. "There, see how well this style shows off your neck and the beautiful lace of your collar, Heidi", said Mrs. Jennings as she did the finishing touches.
"Thank you Mrs. Jennings, you really can do hair so beautifully", praised Mrs. Meyer. Then she turned to Hans: "Close your eyes." She turned him towards the mirror. He could feel his mother do something at the back of his neck. When Mrs. Jennings said: "Oh, how nice!", Hans opened his without even waiting for his mother to say so. His mother had put on the most beautiful, delicate gold necklace around his neck, with a little heart locket just like she had given his sister! "Oh Mutti, thank you" and he hugged her so tight that she thought she would loose her breath.
Mrs. Jennings could sense it was a special moment as she noticed Mrs. Meyer's eyes become moist. "You have a very nice daughter, Mrs. Meyer, you must please come again. It must be a very special day for you, Heidi!"
"Thank you Mrs. Jennings. Yes it is a special day," replied Mrs. Meyer and Hans almost in one voice.
"That was quite enough excitement for today, let's rather skip the milkshake and have tea at home, what do you say, Heidi?" asked Mrs. Meyer as the left the salon. "Yes, Mutti", agreed Hans. He was feeling quite weak from the excitement. As he walked next to his mother, he marveled at the feel of the material as it swished with his legs. He could not help looking at his reflection in every shop window as they walked past and his silhouette on the sidewalk. They drove all the way home without saying a word, each lost in their thoughts.
It was just past noon when they walked into the cool kitchen of the house. Mrs. Meyer put the parcels down and lowered herself with a big sigh into the old arm chair in the corner. "That really was an exciting morning it turned out quite differently from what I had expected! You know, we forgot to buy you T-shirts after all, Heidi!" Hans had already put the kettle on as he was used to do and was busy setting out the cups on the tray. Watching her son for the first time from a little distance, Mrs. Meyer was amazed how pretty he was. She was happy that she had at last gotten a glimpse of his dream world. She sensed that the bond between them had been strengthened as a result. But she was not sure what to do next. "I will have to talk to someone about it", she thought to herself.
"Anybody home? Am I in time for tea, I thought I heard the kettle whistle!" It was Aunt Marge, Mary's mother. It was a long-standing tradition that when she heard the whistle on the kettle and she felt like a chat, she would simply drop by.
"And who is the pretty girl, Gretchen? asked Aunt Marge when she saw Hans who was already putting the extra cup on the tray.
"But it's you, Hans!" she exclaimed when she recognized him. "I don't believe it! You are so pretty turn around and let me see!"
Suddenly, Hans felt very embarrassed and ashamed and tears started to well in his eyes. His mother came to his rescue: "Why don't you quickly take these parcels up to your room, Heidi."
"But come back quickly and show me your beautiful dress", added Aunt Marge.
Mrs. Meyer took the opportunity to explain to her friend what had transpired and asked for advice. Aunt Marge had known the Meyers for many years and had seen their children grow up together. She had a particular soft spot for Hans. At that point, Hans returned somewhat hesitantly. Aunt Marge could talk ...., and soon Hans relaxed as they chatted away and enjoyed the tea just like always.
After a while Aunt Marge rose: "Well, I need to go now. I'll give it some thought, Gretchen. And thanks for the tea, Heidi!" Hans blushed as he walked with her to the door. She gave his hand a gentle squeeze and whispered: "You look just beautiful!"
Mrs. Meyer had cleared away the tea things and was busy preparing for supper. Hans went to the living room to listen to music. Scarcely a half an hour had gone by when the door bell rang. Mrs. Meyer went to open. It was Aunt Marge again. She had two large cardboard boxes with her.
"I have given it some thought. So I have brought Mary's old clothes over. It's almost all new but she has outgrown them so fast. I hope Heidi will like them."
"Who was it?" asked Hans who had come to look.
"It was Aunt Marge. She has brought you something. Help me carry these boxes to your room", replied Mrs. Meyer.
Hans could almost die of excitement when he discovered that the boxes contained Mary's old clothes. Together they unpacked the boxes. Hans shouted with glee as he recognized the different pieces. "Oh, look at this, Mutti! Do you remember how pretty Mary looked?" exclaimed Hans every now and again.
"The shoes and underwear we can pack away in your drawers, but we will have to iron these dresses first before you will be able to wear them. You must choose the one you like best and we can then go over tomorrow and show Aunt Marge", said Mrs. Meyer. She was also quite excited as Hans' exuberance was quite infectious.
They had not noticed how much time they had been spending unpacking the boxes. Then suddenly they heard the car stop on the driveway. It was Mr. Meyer returning from work. Hans froze, what was his father going to say? Instinctively, Mrs. Meyer put her arms around her son....
"Do you need help crossing the street, Ma'am."
"Huh?" Heidi looked up surprised at the man next to her.
"The light has changed several times, so I was wondering if you needed assistance," commented the man with concern.
"Oh, no. I'm sorry, I was deep in thought and had not noticed the light," Heidi replied. She could feel she was blushing furiously but hoped he would notice in the rain. "But thanks."
As the light changed she continued. Then she spotted the huge sign "The Herald". "Now why have I never noticed that before?" she wondered.
Heidi closed her umbrella, giving it a final shake outside, and entered nervously. It was one of those open plan offices. It felt like everyone was looking at her. She hesitated a moment and then noticed the reception sign.
"Can I help you, er, Ma'am?" the receptionist asked.
"I must look terrible," Heidi thought to herself. But she took a deep breath and walked up to the counter.
"I would like to place a notice of change of name, please," Heidi said softly.
"Oh sure," replied the receptionist. Then she turned and shouted across the room to one of the other ladies sitting at the other end of the large room: "Vicki, here is a name change for you!"
Heidi wished she could sink into the floor. Her ears were glowing. A young girl stood up from behind her desk and smiled at Heidi. Heidi tried to walk relaxed but with everyone looking at her it was impossible, she was sure she looked like a puppet.
When Heidi got closer the realized that Vicky was not young, it was only because she was so petite that she looked young. She smiled kindly.
"Hi, I'm Vicki, as I'm sure you've heard," she said with a wink. "Please sit down."
Vicki brought out a form and asked Heidi to complete it. As she was filling in the fields, Heidi noticed that her hand were trembling.
"Do you think I am nervous?" she asked more out of embarrassment than anything else.
"Yes", Vicki replied quite candidly. "It is a big step and you are very brave."
The form was quite short - just your address, current name and new name. It was over in a minute. Heidi paid, thanked Vicki, and stood up to leave. Vicki got up as too, cam around her desk and hugged Heidi.
"Welcome to the clan, Heidi!"
That was the last straw for Heidi. All her pent-up emotions took over. Tears welling up in her eyes.
"Thanks, Vicki. I must go," was all she could manage. By the time she was outside, the tears were flowing freely. Heidi could not care what people thought, she was happy.
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