My grandmother’s name is Lucky. Not really, but that’s what everyone calls her. Her real name is Mary Lee. Her mother was Mary Helen and I always assumed she was called a nickname to avoid confusion with her mother, but it never occurred to me to ask until recently.
She had been very sick and was now recovering in a rehabilitation center. I was in town and stopped by to visit. She’s telling me about the illness and funny stories about people in the nursing home, when I notice her medicine cup on her tray. It says “Mary Lee”. So the people working there didn’t know to call her Lucky, which got me thinking about her name.
“Grandma, how did you get the name Lucky?”
“Well, I was in college and I had two roommates. One was Sarah, who was a big buxom Swede from Oklahoma City. The other was Mary Lou, a stout woman about 5 foot 3. We had to share rooms because the men were coming back from the war. There was a phone down the hall and it’d ring and ring until someone answered it. And then they’d call out: 213 and a name. We were always going down for the wrong person because Mary Lee and Mary Lou are hard to distinguish. Well, I kept going with her dates and she with mine.
“They had a directory, I don’t know how they put it together, but it was out pretty soon after the start of the school year. The men would see someone in class and hear their name and then they’d look them up in the directory and call them to go out. Well, I got tired of her taking all my 6 foot guys and me being stuck with her 5 foot 10 or less and I said, ‘enough of this!’ and I decided, ‘I’m called Lucky. No more Mary Lee.'”
“But what was the problem with dating guys that were 5 foot 10?” I asked.
“Well, there were ten guys to each girl so I figured I could keep to my standards and only see the ones I really wanted to.”
“But surely they saw you in class and knew the girl that came down wasn’t the girl they called?”
“It’s an Officer and a Gentleman,” she explained. “You’ve called a girl down and this is who showed up so you take her out. My housemom took me aside and said, ‘Now don’t flaunt it.'”
That line confused me until she went on: “I was almost 21. We were second semester Freshmen but I was older. I had been out in the business world. I acted more mature than the others and dressed better. We all dressed up for lunch and then again for dinner and going out to walk around Theta pond [Oklahoma State University], taking pictures and stuff. The freshman curfew was 8:00 but we agreed that I could stay out later as long as I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I never abused it. I used it to my advantage a few times,” she finished with a wry smile.
“You mean, you’d tell a guy you didn’t like that you had a curfew?” I asked.
“Well, yes, I’d look down at my watch and say, ‘Oh, my! It’s almost curfew. I better get back!” She laughed, “I was a mean bugger. I even got my mother to start calling me Lucky. We were setting the table and she said, ‘Lucky, put the salt over here.’ Janie [her future sister-in-law] was walking by and she said to me [here she scrunched her face up and adopted a very mean tone]: ‘You have a perfectly good Christian name and you should use it.’ I said, ‘pardon me?’ And she said, ‘You’re name is Mary Lee. Now you’ve even got your mother calling you Lucky.’ She made it clear that she thought I was being sinful and scandalous.
“She never did call me Lucky. It was always Mary Lee. That was really the only trouble we ever had. I would be driving home sometimes with Marie [my mother] asleep in the backseat when a car would come up behind me flashing its lights on and off. I’d pull over and it’d be Raymond [her brother] driving Janie back to school. We’d sit there on the side of the highway toward Stillwater. I’d like to see someone try to do that now. Anyway, it was real handy. Family and friends from High School called me Mary Lee. College called me Lucky. So it was easy to sort them all out.”