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Read A Sample
What 's in a Name
- Life if anything must be an adventure,
one we make ourselves from whatever
comes our way. Tomorrow I begin my
greatest adventure. My Robert is whisking
me away to the wilds of the West as his
bride. I will pick up my fiancé at the
train station; we’ll marry and then we
leave for Cheyenne on the Union Pacific.
My thoughts are on the newness, not what I 'll leave behind in Marengo, Illinois. There 'll be new twists and turns like the Mississippi River that meanders. Surely there 'll be waysides and green oxbows where I can adjust my bustle and catch my breath following this worldly man whose book has been published to rave reviews. I shall make light of trouble should there be ay. That shall be my motto, to remain in the happy lane of life, which is where I am today, September 18, 1877.
- Carrie Adell Green
I have a stack of foolscap papers tied in lavender ribbons written and preserved from my elementary school years when I discovered the power of words. I began a new notebook for my life as Mrs. Robert Strahorn. I hold it now. I’ll write a memoir if my life is adventurous enough and if I’m strong enough to tell the truth to myself, and others, without whining over the hard times nor becoming overbearing at those ace- high moments. These journal entries will be the ore I mine for memoir.
Scared, that’s what I was, though I don’t think I’ll mention that in my memoir.
I’ll make light of the concerns my parents had about sending me off to the unknown wilds of Cheyenne as a new bride. I know they hoped I’d marry someone from the university, but I didn’t. And after the years went by, my sister Mary married and I was still “at home,” as the census recorder noted, so perhaps they welcomed this unknown entity—a westerner— and trusted my judgment. I know he endeared himself to them when he left out the word “obey” in the wedding vows. I thought that quaint. I didn’t realize then how obedience can have a certain comfort to it, a certainty in an otherwise uncertain world. That is, if both confess obedience.
I was twenty- three years old and Robert was twenty- five. We had a minor crisis with the printer misspelling Robert’s last name on the invitations, but I was more concerned with my father’s melancholy as he pondered our nuptials.
“I hope he can support my little girl. Writers don’t make much money, do they?”
I had no idea.
Before I knew it, I stood in the First Presbyterian Church (Marengo, Illinois) with my sisters fluffing my hair and me trying to make light of the worries in their eyes. Mary, my older sister, tall and slender, wore the most concern. She’d been married three years, was now a mother herself. “I love my Willie,” she said, “but marriage takes more than love.”
“You’re the wise sister,” I told her. And to Hattie I said, “And you’re the most beautiful sister and that leaves me with being . . . the most adventurous sister. I’m off to the wilderness. Everything’s going to be fine.”
“But he calls you ‘Dell,’ as though the name our parents chose for you isn’t good enough.” Mary stood before me. We shared strong chins, high foreheads, blue eyes, and hair the color of chestnuts, though mine frizzed like spewed baby bubbles, tiny and soft at my temples in the September heat. “You’re Carrie and will always be Carrie to us.” She reached for the ivory combs, pushed them into my hair. She straightened the sleeves of my satin dress, the scent of lavender left over from the dressmaker’s hands bringing comfort. “Did the two of you discuss him calling you Dell?”
“I don’t really mind.” His first fiancée, my friend Carrie, and I had shared given names. She had died. I missed her.
Hattie held Christina, our one-year- old niece, in her arms. I loved that child. Nieces and nephews, they can be such a comfort. “It’s diminishing, calling you Dell.”
“No. I . . . it’s just that Carrie Lucy has passed and I don’t think he likes being reminded of her death by using any part of her name for me.”
“Do you love him?” The wiser older sister asked.
“I do. I really do.” I sank onto the wide arm of the horsehair-stuffed couch. I didn’t want to wrinkle the satin dress that fit around my curves nor bust the bustle, either. I didn’t remind them that I was twenty-three years old, college-educated, and there weren’t a lot of men willing to take on an oldster like me. Robert was. He was charming, and yes, I did indeed love him and his western garb of cowboy boots, his closely tailored sack-suit with wing-tip collar and tie. He didn’t don the Stetson hats we’d seen on Texans coming up the Mississippi but instead wore the stylish Homburg made of black wool.
“I saw him care for her, grieve when she died. I watched his tenderness as he held her hands in his, and the attentiveness he extended to Carrie’s family and to me while he dealt with his own grief.”
Hattie smoothed my dress. I could tell she held back a thought. She was nineteen and not yet with a steady beau. She was the beautiful sister with eyebrows as though painted perfectly on, and quick-witted.
“My accommodation to his simple request to not have to call me Carrie is a little thing I can do to make him happy.” I reached for the rouge and dabbed my lips. “Marriage is made up of little sacrifices like that, isn’t that so, Mary?” She didn’t reply.
His request to call me Dell had come after he arrived on the Union Pacific and told me his grand news about his book—and new job offer. We were in the carriage heading to my parents’ home.
“Omaha? I thought we’d be heading to Cheyenne.” I’d been looking forward to the more exotic life of Cheyenne, putting down roots as deep as the sage. “Carrie would have loved Omaha.”
That was dull of me, bringing up her memory.
Robert removed his hat, ran his hands through his thick dark hair. He closed his eyes as he leaned his head against the backrest. I sat across from him. He was tall and slender and quite handsome, with thick eyebrows and sideburns framing a jaw cut from sharp scissors. “Yes, Carrie would have loved Omaha.” He paused. “About that.”
“We’ll be fine there. I’ll adjust my imagination.”
“No, about what Carrie would have liked. Or more, Carrie’s name.” He cleared his throat.
“She was my best friend, Robert.”
He leaned in, patted my hand, held my fingers, forearms on his knees. “What I wonder is, would you mind if I called you Dell instead of Carrie, from your middle name?”
I must have flinched, as he quickly added, “It makes you unique to me, having a name that doesn’t bring up loss.”
“I know it’s a great deal to ask of you. And I wouldn’t want you to give up your name legally, just what I might call you. I know I’m marrying Carrie Adell Green and looking forward to it, absolutely.” His smile could melt cheese. “But when I say your name in the sweetness of an hour—or when I tell stories of our adventures, and there will be those—well, I’d love to have no startling memories rise up with the sound of ‘Carrie’ in my ears. Does that make sense to you?”
I wanted to tell him to separate the two of us some other way. I wanted to say, “Change how you feel,” because people can do that, change how we feel. We do it all the time, from one anxious moment anticipating the arrival of one’s fiancé to worrying that something has gone wrong on the tracks to flashing to a beloved memory of sadness, all within seconds. He could have changed how he heard my name, given himself some time to associate me with it and not his first fiancée.
“Men are named Del, aren’t they?”
“Yes, but it’s spelled differently.”
I didn’t tell him that didn’t matter to the ear. “It’ll take a bit of getting used to.”
“One of the things I love about you, Dell, is that you are open to trying new things. We’re partners in that, or ‘pardners’ as the cowboys say. We’re on a track that will take us to amazing places with remarkable people, the most important being you and me, working together.”
“In Omaha, where everyone will come to know you as Dell Strahorn.”
Carrie Adell Green had stepped off the caboose.
He at least could have called me Adell, but I suppose the old printer in him knew that the A took extra space in a line and good writers are all about saving space.
“I’ll call you Pard,” I offered.
“Good, that’s good. We are partners in all things. I like that.”
So Dell and Pard got married, and arrived in Omaha. I adapted. It isn’t written in the marriage vows that one must adapt, but it ought to be. Somehow I’ll find a way to explore that in my memoir—if I write one—remembering the happy lane from my journal, but sprinkled with a little Mark Twain making fun of things too serious to explore. It’s not a lie to not tell all the truth.
- From Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, vol. 1,
by Carrie Adell Strahorn (page 8)
“I say, mother, I made our new son promise to put in a hundred bushels of potatoes every fall, but if he stays in Wyoming I think he will have to rustle some when its credits now are only wind and Indians.” “Well, pa, don’t worry,” mother replied, “It does seem a long ways to be from home if things don’t go right, but so long as daughter can sing as she does now she will never go hungry for they do say there are churches in Cheyenne just the same as here. . . . You know she is a pretty good judge of human nature and maybe he’ll surprise us all someday by living up to her ideal. He don’t seem to know much about women, but he does seem dreadfully fond of our girl. It was really funny last night to hear him tell Rev. Hutchinson, the minister, that the bride-to-be wanted the word ‘obey’ left out of the ceremony because there is Woman’s Suffrage in Wyoming, and suggest, ‘If you don’t want to leave it out entirely, just put it in my part, for I’ve been running wild so long I just want to be obliged to obey somebody.’ ”
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