By Wendy Hodge
It is a Tuesday night, and my relaxation ritual has begun. Hot water, mountains of bubbles, a sapphire blue champagne flute filled with cold sparkling water, and a movie set to play on my laptop. Tonight’s choice is Fried Green Tomatoes. My dog, Elvis, prefers musicals, so he has shifted his focus from the screen to licking bubbles off the side of the tub. He’s missing out on one of the best movies ever. It’s exquisitely sad and sassy, and it never fails to make me cry as I laugh – one of my favorite things to do.
Here’s the best scene. You ladies know the one – Evelyn Couch, played to perfection by Kathy Bates, has been waiting for a parking spot only to have a car pull in ahead of her leaving her fuming behind the wheel. And then she feels that surge of power that comes when a woman realizes she’s had enough. She smiles and says the name ‘Tawanda.’ That one word became a southern anthem for all of us, male and female alike, who have been taught or reminded that there is an inner strength that we hold in reserve that makes us bolder and bigger than we knew we could be. Tawanda. Now that’s a name.
When I was a little girl, I often wished for a more exotic name. For a while, I fancied Geneva Carolina. It felt like royalty when I said it. Anything, I reasoned, would be better than Wendy Lynne. Could a name be any more southern or little girlie than Wendy Lynne? Ugh. The alternative was the nickname my dad gave me, which I will never disclose here – even if Elvis’s life depends on it!
Over time, I came to like my name, though. Have you noticed that your own name sounds different depending on who’s saying it? When my mother says “Wendy,” it is with a weak voice but a strong heart, and I hear the sound of family in that one word. When my co-workers say it, it’s usually accompanied by laughter and a heavy dose of smart aleck, and I automatically smile.
When neighbors and friends who have known me forever say my name, there is a sense of home and belonging and of being in the exact right place. There is a man I love, and when he says “Wendy” it sounds like a promise. It’s one of my favorite sounds … his voice saying those five letters.
I have been privileged within the last year to have my name spoken to me in a way that defies the odds and renews my belief in the idea of life, mine and everyone else’s, as an infinite web that crosses and tangles with each other’s in ways we cannot explain or understand.
The first occurred last Fourth of July holiday. A friend, who lived in Newnan, Georgia, asked me to house sit for the weekend. I strolled around the downtown area, window shopping and taking pictures, enjoying my solitude in the middle of a busy crowd. And I had a singular experience that moved me more than I can say, even to this day. I posted about it that afternoon on Facebook: “Checkers With Wendy” – Today as I stood observing the parade and celebrations in downtown Newnan, Georgia, I spotted a man in an Army jacket with a garbage bag at his feet. He was sitting at a table playing checkers against himself, oblivious to the noise around him. I hesitated just a moment before I asked if I could sit with him. He barely looked up but said, “Sure.” He reset the checkers and made the first move. Over the next hour, we played several games (which I won), and we talked about his journey from college graduate to homeless citizen of the world. He was direct and unemotional but friendly enough. When the last game was over, he mentioned his daughter and how he would have spent the last part of his life living with her had she not died several years earlier. “I miss my Wendy,” he said. “Your daughter’s name was Wendy?” I whispered. He nodded. “My name is Wendy, too.” His face lit up, and I could see the man he had once been shining out from underneath the dirt and sorrow. “I’ve been playing checkers with Wendy. How about that!” He gave me a from-the-heart smile that I will never forget, lifted his bag over his shoulder, and stood to leave. He paused long enough to wink at me and say, “I used to let her win, too.” One step out of my comfort zone, and there it is … a feast for the heart and mind.
I carried that day around with me, and still do. One year later, on another hot summer day, I found myself on a country road in Georgia. I’d spent the day on a Saturday adventure – driving and talking to strangers, eating watermelon from a roadside stand and listening to myself sing along with the radio. I was as happy as a girl can expect to be when it’s hellishly hot in Alabama.
As I turned my car back toward home, I spotted a tiny little store selling homemade ice cream and fried apple pies. There was a tire swing hanging from a huge oak tree to the side, and a floppy-eared dog sprawled out in the grass.
Well. I pulled in, of course.
Have you ever smelled fried apple pies while they bake? If not, you must do so at least once in your lifetime. I inhaled that glorious smell and sampled the peach cobbler ice cream and would have happily handed over every dollar in my wallet to take home my fair share of that deliciousness. Smiling like an idiot child, I walked through the exit with my bags and turned the corner and walked right into a hunched over little old man. He was wearing overalls and had skin the color of cocoa. He raised his head and looked at me, and I gasped out loud. Those eyes – they were the color of jade and, I swear, they glowed.
Before I could utter a word, this gentleman who looked like he’d spent two lifetimes working outside, said, “I know. My eyes. I was born with ‘em. He smiled with his whole face, and the jade irises glowed even warmer.”
He stuck out his hand and wrapped mine up in his leathery fingers.
“I’m sorry I stared. That was rude,” I said. “Not at all. My wife taught me a long time ago to be proud of the eyes the good Lord gave me.”
“It’s what made her fall in love with me, so I can’t be anything but grateful for ‘em.”
“She sounds like a smart woman.”
His smile softened as he said, “She was. She always said the world was full of amazing things if we only stopped and paid attention. Wendy was one in a million.”
“Her name was Wendy?” I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.
“Yes. Wendy Lynne.”
“That’s my name,” I whispered back. “I’m Wendy Lynne, too.”
We stood staring at each other a moment. He broke the silence by patting my arm and saying, “Wendy was right. Amazing things happen every single day.” He shuffled past me and went inside, leaving me to wipe the tears from my face.
I walked over to the tire swing and only paused a moment before I climbed on. “Wendy Lynne” repeated itself in my head, at once uniquely mine and also gloriously universal. I pushed off with my feet and turned my face to the sky, grateful for the name I carry with me through this beautiful web of a world.
Wendy Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika. She previously had a column titled A Word or Ten, which was featured in the Tennessee Star Journal and is currently awaiting release of her first novel with Harper Collins Publishing Company.