- Naming Ceremony
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[End Page 76]
It's the spring of 1968 here in Chicago, and Mama says Old Mayor Daley has his big fists wrapped around our necks. She says he doesn't care about brown people like us. "If this city had a proper name, it would be 'Prejudiced, Illinois,'" Mama tells me while she braids my hair. [End Page 77]
I'm in the second grade at school, so I know what that word is all about. It's a mean word that says we can't eat in just any restaurant, even if my parents have enough money, and we can't move into just any neighborhood. If I got to name our city, I'd call it "Happy," because sometimes you have to be nice to people and places and dolls if you want them to be nice back.
I almost forget what my real name is. I have so many names. When Mama's in a good mood, she calls me Sissy or Sissygirl or Prunella—after one of Cinderella's wicked stepsisters. I think she's the sister whose knee cracks. Mine doesn't. They play the Cinderella show on TV every year, and one year Mama promised we were gonna watch it together. "It's a big musical," she said. "You'll love it!" She forgot I'd already seen it and knew all the songs by heart. But when I spilled a glass of milk at the dinner table—my hand knocked it over since I can be clumsy like that—Mama said, "No TV!" She said I had to learn to be more careful but changed her mind later when Dad asked her to let me watch. I only missed a little bit, the opening number.
I feel funny when I hear new songs, almost like I forget to breathe. Can you walk inside a song? I think I do.
Mama says I have a "Christian name," though we left the church in a huff a few months back, when Mama shared in confession that she never felt the presence of God except at the Dakota Sun Dance we go to when we visit her brothers and sisters in North Dakota. Dad said she was looking for trouble to say such things to old Father Weasel (his name isn't really Weasel). Mama gave him a look, and he went quiet. I know what he was trying to say. Sometimes Mama's in a mood she can't keep all to herself; she has to spread it around. She'll pick a fight with anyone, and it's no use tiptoeing, being sweet and well behaved, because she'll get you on that, ask why everyone walks on eggshells near her like she's a crazy person. Then you're in the doghouse.
She spread her mood on Father Weasel during her last confession. She even pushed up the sleeve of her nice gray going-to-church dress to show the priest her scars from a flesh sacrifice, though he probably couldn't see much through the screen that separates him from us. And when Father Weasel told her the Sun Dance is the Devil's work, she said Jesus made his own Sun Dance at the end, if you think about it. Father Weasel lost his head and told Mama she was beyond penance. I heard him, since I was in a nearby pew saying five Hail Marys and two Our Fathers for confessing that I was sometimes angry with Mama in my [End Page 78] thoughts. Mama grabbed my arm and dragged me out of church, and I never finished saying penance, so I guess I'm still carrying around that sin of anger inside me, with nowhere to let it out.
Mama reminds me that I have a Dakota name, too, on top of the Christian one. She says Grandma gave it to me in a ceremony the year she lived with us. I wish she was still here, with her soft hands and smiles and nice back rubs when I...