I'm not sure how many times in my life I've had to repeat my name for people who just couldn't or wouldn't believe their ears the first time. Of course I can't really blame them--my name is pretty high up there on the scale of unique and unconventional! At this point, I'm so used to these reactions that I've come to enjoy observing the myriad of personalities in people's responses when they realize they've heard me correctly.
There are the jubilant smilers: "Really?" they ask with big laugh. "That is the best name ever!" The shy ignorers act like my name is as common as the next while proceeding to write H-a-p-p-y on my Starbucks cup. Then there are the serene approvers, who look me straight in the eye and offer up something like, "Cool name." The inquirers always want to know if it's my real name. "Yes," I respond, smiling. And almost always this is followed with the probing question: "Is it on your birth certificate?" to which I again reply with a yes. Sometimes I'll chime in with more information to erase their puzzled looks. "I was named after my grandmother," I will say, which always brings a smile and more questions that I never mind answering.
Because my Grandma Happy was someone I adored. Being her namesake is something I've always been proud of. Really, adoration isn't a big enough word to encompass how much I craved being in the company of her carefree spirit—her resilient attitude toward life—her robust sense of humor. My grandparents lived on a cattle ranch—and those memories stand out like golden moments of my childhood.
On summer visits, Grandma Happy and I would collect rocks and wade in the stream on our walks with the dogs through the woods. We made grape jelly from the vines that hung from the wrap-around porch trellises of the ranch house. We caught toads in the pond and then set them free to keep on croaking. In the winter, I pulled back the curtain early one morning to the sound of the cuckoo clock and saw my first snowfall outside the window of the upstairs bedroom. With Grandpa's help, we cut down our own Christmas tree and hauled it home to decorate. We built snowmen and then warmed our hands inside by the potbelly stove.
Those times were few and far between, which made them all the more precious to me. But thankfully, Grandma was a letter writer. For those times we could't be together, Grandma would employ the use of her trusty typewriter with its flowery, cursive typestyle (I would give an arm to own that typewriter-who knows where it is now) and she'd fill in the long gaps of our time apart with her answers to my letters and fun details of her remote ranch life. Her writings were always upbeat-always-fun, and well...happy. Just like the name she had once earned. You see, Grandma Happy's given name was Muriel. My great-grandparents were cousins who'd fallen in love in England at the turn of the 20th century. The family did not approve, so they eloped to America and came to California. When Muriel was born, she soon became a sickly baby who couldn't hold her food and wouldn't gain weight.
Her parents tied everything possible, but little Muriel would wail all day and night - she was a miserable baby who was failing to thrive. Then one miraculous day, a traveling salesman knocked on the door to their home. He was selling a new product - a baby formula that he recommended with enthusiasm. Of course my great-grandparents were willing to try anything at that point. Well, you guessed it - the food worked! And the shift in little Muriel's personality was huge. She went from a miserable baby to a happy one. And she was known as Happy for the rest of her life .
I don't think my parents gave a second thought to naming me after her. My dad was so accustomed to hearing the name his whole life that he didn't think it odd at all. Often people will ask if my free-spirited name came from having hippies for parents-to which I reply, "Definitely not." Others say my parents must have been so happy when I was born. A nice idea, and true enough I'm sure - but no that's not the reason. The reason was simply that happy little baby who grew into a resilient woman with a vibrant, full life. I'm just honored to carry on her Happiness.