Tag Archives: W.C. Fields



Aunt Mary? Mrs. Shepherd?

Aunt Mary? Mrs. Shepherd?



Beth knew the answer.

Beth knew the answer.


"...a rose by any other name..."

“…a rose by any other name…”

My mother’s two years as a kindergarten teacher in Kansas City were rich with stories that took place long before I was born. This is the third story from that time period.

Remember the large group picture of my mother in the back row, posed with the other staff and the kindergarten students? My cousin Beth was visiting that day, so she was included in the picture, too. What the picture doesn’t show is the intense argument she had with one of the little boys in the class. “That’s my Aunt Mary,” Beth told him proudly. “No, it’s not,” he replied indignantly. “That’s Mrs. Shepherd.”

“No, sir.”   “Is too.”   “Uh-uh.”   “Uh-huh.”   Back and forth it went.

My mother made it a teaching moment for the whole class: names can show our relationship to other people ~ Mom, Grandma, Aunt Mary, Mrs. Shepherd, or a nickname like Mary Ibbeth or Mary E.   Names can also make it clear what we do or who we are to others ~ teacher, writer, friend, neighbor. We can have many names, and if someone tells you, “Don’t call me that,” then be polite and don’t use that name.

Writers—including my mother, before the dementia—know that literature has many examples of the importance of a character’s name. “Call me Ishmael,” the opening line of MOBY-DICK, is a classic example. In Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, much importance is attached to the character learning his name and who he is: “Kiss a lover ~ Dance a measure ~ Find your name ~ and buried treasure.”

Jarod Kintz, author of   99 CENTS FOR SOME NONSENSE, had a different perspective. “Male or female, if my name were either Don or Dawn, I’d be up at sunrise to celebrate the glory that is me.”

W.C. Fields said this about the name issue: “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”   Which he might have taken more seriously if he’d been bullied on the play ground. Or he might have shrugged and said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”   Oh, sure; children aren’t ever hurt by name calling.

My mother never saw Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS, but she enjoyed T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which was the core of the musical. “…Before a Cat will condescend…To treat you as a trusted friend…A cat’s entitled to expect…These evidences of respect…And so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name.”

The story of my cousin Beth arguing about whether my mother’s name was Aunt Mary or Mrs. Shepherd makes me smile. This Christmas Mom’s dementia is so advanced that I doubt either name—or any of the others—will mean much to her. She fades in and out of life as a child on the farm, and sometimes scenes from working with my dad or raising children.

For those of you who have a loved one in a similar situation, I wish you the simple joys of being together: gentle humor, genuine acceptance, delicious foods and holiday music. In difficult situations, feeling love and hugs are more important than remembering names.

"...and so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name..."

“…and so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name…”



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, kindergarten lessons about life, life questions, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, teaching, writing


Statue of child with basket on stone bench.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Statue of child with basket on stone bench. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)


Unidentified marker in cemetery in  Abilene, KS.

Unidentified marker in cemetery in Abilene, KS.

April has two “special” days I don’t enjoy. First, I’m not a huge fan of April Fools Day and all the pranks that tumble in, once after another. But that’s behind us now. So, are you ready for tomorrow’s special day? Drum roll, please…

Sunday, April 6th is “PLAN YOUR EPITAPH DAY ”

The flower of the day is Snow Crocus, and the recipe of the day is Lima Beans in Sour Cream (cook beans, drain, add salt, pepper and sour cream to taste.) Ohboy.

If you’re planning your own epitaph or an epitaph for someone else and need suggestions, here are some ideas taken from the words others have had set in stone:

“Murdered by a traitor and a coward whose name is not worthy to appear here.” ~ Jesse James’ mother, Zerelda, chose this inscription for Jesse’s tombstone.

“The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” ~ Thornton Wilder’s choice

“She did it the hard way.” ~ on tombstone of actress Bette Davis

“The best is yet to come.” ~ Frank Sinatra’s choice for his tombstone

~ in a Maryland cemetery: “Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.” 

“Here lies W.C. Fields. I’d rather be living in Philadelphia.” ~ W.C. Fields’ epitaph

“3.141592653589793238462643338327950” ~ on Dutch Mathematician Ludolph vanCeulan’s tombstone. In 1610, at age 70, vanCeulan was the first to calculate the value of pi in 35 digits.

“Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.” ~ epitaph for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

~ on tombstone of twin infants buried together in Fort Scott National Cemetery: “They took their first breaths with God” (Their father was in the military; he and their mother are buried next to the infants.)

Whether or not you plan to have an epitaph, “Plan Your Epitaph Day” is a reminder to make your own final plans now instead of leaving them for others to handle later.

In closing, I thank you all for your kind comments and emails last week. My mother has been moved back to her apartment and is receiving excellent care and helpful medications. Mom does not have to plan her epitaph. She and my dad have a shared tombstone, and whenever the time comes she’ll be buried in the plot next to his. Their epitaph has already been set in the stone: BEST FRIENDS FOREVER

Unfinished lighthouse, set at the edge of a field in Brown's Park, Abilene, KS

Unfinished lighthouse, stones set in concrete, waits at the edge of a field in Brown’s Park, Abilene, KS

Now this is majestic stone work!  Buena Vista, CO

Now this is majestic stone work! Buena Vista, CO


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, special days in April


A rose by another name...would still have thorns. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

A rose by another name…would still have thorns. (All photos by Marylin Warner)


Dear Mom,

I read in the DENVER POST that the first baby born in Colorado in 2013 is named Lyrik, for his mother’s love of music. Other 2013 baby names around the country so far include Daffon, Mobley, and Sayge. In Hawaii, this year’s first baby is Quetzalli; in Kansas, it’s Xiomara Tatiana. Mark Twain was probably right: “Names are not always what they seem.”

How many times did I whine because I didn’t like my name, Mom? All around me in grade school were cute names like Kathy, Mickey, Cindy and Karen. But I was Marylin, and the confusing spelling of my name reversed the y and the i of the traditional Marilyn. Even today, if someone calls and asks to speak to “Mary Lin,” I know they don’t know me because my name is pronounced in the typical mare-lin or mɛrələn.

The majority of us go through at least one period in life when we wish we had a different name. It’s very common for children to go by nicknames or their middle names for awhile, and many writers have pseudonyms. Author Dean Koontz has had 11 pen names, including “Deanna Dwyer.” Harlan Ellison had 25 pen names, and Ray Bradbury had 17, including Hollerbochen and Omega. Politicians have succeeded (or not) with names like Frank Schmuck, Jay Walker, Krystal Ball, and Rodney Assman. Maybe it’s true what W.C. Fields said: “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”

When I used to complain, once you gave me a piece of paper and a pencil and said, “What’s the name you’d rather have?” I remember coming up with some doozies that even I didn’t take seriously. You smiled and went on to other things, reminding me that it’s not just our name that makes a difference, but what we do to make a difference…that’s what counts.

You were in line with the Dakota Proverb: “We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.” Thanks, Mom, aka Mary Elizabeth. (I’ve always loved your name, Mom, and your nickname, too…Mary Ibbith)                                                                                                               tracks in mud

"We will be known forever by the tracks we leave." ~Dakota Proverb (with thanks to St. Joseph"s Indian School calendar

“We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.” ~Dakota Proverb (with thanks to St. Joseph”s Indian School calendar)


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, names