My name is Birdie Elizabeth Keane. I know, right. Why didn’t my parents give me a cool name like Sidney or Parker or Ashton? I was teased, bullied, and hectored as a child. After all, a name like Birdie is ripe for ridicule.
I made my parents pay for the elementary years of indignity by turning “brat” into a profession. My misbehaving became legendary in family circles. Once, I sprayed an empty birdhouse with lighter fluid and set it aflame. What happened next was unintentional. Let’s just say the fire department was dispatched and my parents received a bill for eight hundred dollars. Not bad, considering.
By the time I was in the middle grades I became attached to other underdogs and learned how to kick ass. Anyone who dared call me Tweety only did it once. My nickname became Birdie Badass.
I started writing professionally at fourteen. (Yes, that’s true.) By then I wanted to legally change my name to Randall. I pitched my parents and told them no one would take a girl named Birdie seriously and I’d be a successful reporter if people thought I was a dude. They didn’t buy into the concept which forced me to use Elizabeth as my byline.
My mother was especially displeased with the quest to change my name. She said I was not living the life I was meant to live and that I disrespected the two grandmothers for whom I am named and diminished their legacy. Legacy? A pride-worthy concept I could lean on.
Birdie is my paternal grandmother. She lives in Ireland. By the time she was my current age (thirty) she’d borne nine children. Her youngest was six when Grandpa died and she became a single mother with hundreds of fertile acres of grassland and sheep to manage. Birdie ran afoul of the patriarchal model of land ownership that traditionally passed from father to son. With a gung-ho vigor she fought the local councils to maintain ownership and in the following decade grew the farm to nearly a thousand acres.
Elizabeth is my maternal grandmother, also named for her mother. Elizabeth I became a widow at twenty-two with three children. To feed her family she took a hostess job at the local movie theatre. When ticket sales ceased during the Great Depression the theater closed. But EI had the vision to see the future. She negotiated with the owner to take over the theatre for no money down. EI traded movie tickets with shopkeepers for staples like meat, dairy, flour, and sugar. Once in the theatre they inevitably purchased popcorn. Then, as today, concessions were profit makers and EI survived at a time when many lost their jobs, homes, and fortunes.
EI’s daughter, E2, grew up in that theatre. She and her siblings scraped gum off the chairs, touched up scuffed paint, maintained the popcorn machine, and swept floors. She learned every aspect of that business from the front of the house to the back of the house and took that acumen and knowledge to San Francisco. E2 started with one cinema and grew it to a mid-sized regional chain. She was also a pioneer in the luxury movie market by being the first to sell cocktails, restaurant quality food, and reserved seating.
I’ve learned to love my legacy names. They separate the personal (Birdie) with the professional (Elizabeth), but they are also the substance of character and reflect hard-earned experience. In them my true register lies and I’m no longer trying to be someone I’m not.
You can read more about Birdie in Glass Houses, the second book in the “Birdie Keane” mystery series, published by Midnight Ink. The first book in the series is Burden of Truth. Books are available at retail and online booksellers.
GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by noon EST on February 27, and you will be entered for a chance to win a signed edition of Burden of Truth as well as Glass Houses. One winner will be chosen at random. Unless specified, U.S. entries only.
Meet the author
Terri Nolan is a Southern California native. She earned a B.A. in Radio/Television from the University of Texas at Arlington. She is a freelance crime reporter and novelist. Her novels include Glass Houses and Burden of Truth. Her short story, Hobo Joe, appears in the anthology Murder in La La Land. Please visit her at www.terrinolan.com
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