This blog is about discovering and creating myself as Brynna. Before Brynna made her appearance, I had other lives. Growing up in a mill town in the hills of Western Maine, my extended family often called me Brenda Gayle or BG. My cousin Howard, really my mother’s cousin, liked to tease me and, on the basis of my middle name, called me Windy.
For a while in high school, because of my nearly-six-foot height, I was sometimes teased as Wilt the Stilt, after then popular basketball player, Wilt Chamberlain. Although I played basketball in high school – in half-court games because in those days it was believed that women weren’t up to running the full length of the court, I was never a very good player. I felt a sense of freedom when I was allowed to run the full length of the court on the basketball team at the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, which I attended in my junior year. I still wasn’t a very good player, but I liked the game a great deal better.
Most commonly, I was plain Brenda. I sometimes said I was named after the cartoon character, Brenda Starr, Reporter, a glamorous and adventuresome journalist popular in the early 40s, when I was born. My mother never really validated this story, though.
Once, on a lesbian camping trip on the Shepaug River in western Connecticut, I was signing a birthday card while others were making breakfast. I had written the BR of my name, when, inspired by someone’s request for jelly, I finished signing as Brelly. I gave the card to Patti as we ate breakfast, and of course had to tell the story, and friends began calling me Brelly. To this day, thirty-plus years later, to some friends, and to my wife and my step-daughter, Brelly I often remain.
My last name has remained pretty much constant, except for a brief period when I was first married to David, during which I was Brenda Curren, or Mrs. Curren to my high school students. After a year’s separation, during which I made acquaintance with Women’s Liberation through Bread and Roses in Boston, my husband and I reunited. “I would like to take back my maiden name,” I told him, as a condition of our reconciliation. He paused. “Think of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor,” I suggested. Richard Burton was one of his heroes and a model for David’s own acting. He agreed, and I again became Brenda Kaulback.
When I was working for the Connecticut Board of Governors for Higher Education, I had an office next to a woman named Beverly. She and I both worked on employment and training grant money. We looked nothing alike, but, I suppose because of our common work goals, people often confused us. At my going away party, I commented that I hadn’t minded when people called me Beverly and her Brenda, but I had felt a little invisible when they began calling both of us Beverly.
Fifty years after I earned my B.A., I became a Ph.D. I was 71. Rosemary had achieved this status one year prior. Since I was already retired by the time I walked across the stage to be introduced as Dr. Kaulback for the first time, I have had little occasion to use my new title. Pretty much the only one who uses my new title is my soon-to-be 90 year old mother-in-law, who addresses all our mail to Dr. Rosemary Talmadge and Dr. Brenda Kaulback. Occasionally, I order something and put the “Dr.” on the address, just to see my new name in print.
These days, the name I often get is Rosemary, my wife’s name, which I answer to readily. We both worked for the Commissioner of Social Services in Connecticut for a period of time. Once, when I was visiting my daughter in Paris, the Commissioner, Joyce, met Rosemary in the hall. “How is Rosemary doing in Paris?” she asked. Without taking a breath, Rosemary answered, “Oh, she’s having a great time.”
This morning, at the All Soul’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation in New London, which we have recently started attending, the woman at the welcome desk called Rosemary Brynna. “Good,” I thought, “I am becoming.”