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Mags and the AARP Gang - Browse

    My name is Margaret Sybil Broadly Benson, née Spencer, but you can call me Mags. I should tell you I've been married three times, not twice, but the last guy, Jimmy Hooper, hardly counted. We were only married for five months before he died. I didn't even bother to change my name, not that I would have, because Jack Benson was the love of my life and I wasn't about to give up his name, especially not for a little marriage of convenience like my last husband was. You don't have to become my friend to call me Mags; I'm Mags to everyone, friend and foe alike.
    Only two people ever called me Margaret. The first was my mother. Most people will tell you their first memory is of their mother bringing home a sibling or of going off to the hospital for a tonsillectomy, but my earliest memory is of Mother and Father arguing about my name.
    "Mags. What kind of name is that to be calling our girl, George? It sounds like she's a larval stage of some unpleasant biting insect. If you must give her a pet name, what's wrong with calling her something more conventional like Maggie or Meg?"
    "You're looking at Mags the wrong way, Henrietta. Think of Mags as the name of a girl whose life will be full of freedom and possibilities. It would be perfectly acceptable for a girl named Mags to have skinned knees and learn to kick a ball as well as any boy does. She can become a scientist or live her life as an explorer who studies Egyptian pyramids. Why, one day Mags might go to the Valley of The Kings and discover a tomb that's grander than King Tut's."
    "I've given you three sons, George. They can do those things for you. I finally have my precious little girl. I want to put her in frilly pink dresses and white Mary Janes and have her learn what it means to remain a perfect lady even under the most trying conditions. I want her to marry well. No young woman called Mags can make the kind of marriage I envision for our Margaret."
    "Humph," he blew air out of his nose. "Remember, Henrietta, that our Mags is a Spencer, and as such is a member of a well respected family. If the name Mags is unacceptable to her future husband, it will be because you would have her married to some stodgy type who doesn't appreciate her or her character and accomplishments."
    "Not at all. I can imagine Margaret as the wife of a prominent man, possibly a renowned general, or a diplomat to an important country, or a Senator - why, I could even see her as The First Lady of the land - and for that kind of future, she must be able to command respect in the world. She will need to be taken seriously. No one will take her seriously if her name is Mags."
    My father was a judge and used to shutting down arguments when he had heard enough from the opposing attorneys. He ended his argument with my mother similarly. "Mags suits our daughter better than any other name and that is what I intend to call her."
    It turned out he was right, but from the perspective of the thrice-married mature woman that I am now, I know suitability was only part of why father insisted on calling me by that peculiar abridgement of Margaret. He relished the tiny irritated twitch that flitted across Mother's lips anytime he or my big brothers called me Mags. Oh, don't get me wrong, my father loved my mother, but by the time I came along, well after my mother passed the age when it was considered polite for a woman to produce a child, he'd had enough of her proper demeanor and Episcopalian managerial style - what with him being one of those radical Methodists - that he'd do whatever he could to loosen her up or, barring that, shake her up. So he dubbed me Mags, not so much because the nickname was apt, but because it perturbed my mother.
    My parents lost my oldest brother, Richard, to pneumonia when I was ten. Had he become ill a few years later and been treated with penicillin, he might have survived. Unfortunately for him, and for all of us, his death occurred before its advent. Brother Morton died unexpectedly in a boating accident the following summer. He was alive and teasing at breakfast, and pale and still before nightfall. At least with Richard, even though there was the worry and the pleading with God, there was a little time to prepare for his death. Morton's passing left every member of our dwindling family in shock.
    The telegram that arrived telling my parents that Robert had died leading his men ashore on Omaha Beach was even more of a shock. Everyone understood what telegrams meant that far into the war. To this day I remember Mrs. Anderson collapsing to her knees as the postman handed her a telegram and how Mother dashed across the street to her, not even looking both ways for cars like she taught me to do. Still, Robert's telegram ... that telegram killed my father as surely as if he had been shot through the heart like Robert was; it just took him three years to die from his wound.
    After that Mother had me to herself, and I, not wanting to risk her health as she said I would if I insisted on being called Mags, felt too alone and heartbroken at the loss of all the men I loved to resist her. I allowed myself to become Margaret for a year and succumbed to a huge June wedding at age nineteen to the man of my mother's dreams - the second person in my life who called me Margaret.
    I knew the enormity of the mistake I was making as I walked down the aisle toward Bradley Broadly. Can you imagine the cruel thoughtlessness of a father who would name his son Bradley Broadly? Oh, I know, his name came from an amalgamation of two prominent family names, but really!
    It was no surprise to me that our marriage did not go well. I tried, but without a heartfelt commitment, it was more of a challenge for me to be Margaret Broadly than I was up to. I left him after two years, much to the chagrin - no, to the utter mortification - of my mother, who found herself thrust into the midst of scandal by her divorced husband-deserting daughter. She coped by making me as dead to her as my brothers were.
    I felt guilty for abandoning my marriage vows - but free. I reclaimed my name the day I walked out of the grand house and the ostentatious future that marriage to Bradley Broadly promised because Father was right: Mags did suit me.
    Possibly it was having three older brothers around during my formative years that made me the way I am, still a tomboy at the age of eighty-three, but more probably it was because my second husband, Jack Benson, saw me as the Mags of my father's imaginings. With my hand in his, and my name forever Mags Benson, I became a true adventurer and a world wanderer.
    Wherever Jack and I settled, we knew our tenure was temporary. When we found ourselves staying overlong and beginning to feel stifled by our surroundings, we would buy a crisp new map of the country, open it and refold it haphazardly, and then stick a pin though it. We would pick a letter of the alphabet, unfold the map, and the pinpricked town that began with the letter closest to the one we chose would become our next stop.
    One day, when we were beginning to feel caged by the City by the Bay, we found an old globe for sale in a second hand shop called Rotten Tillie's. It was out of date and cheap as a result, but it still spun wonderfully on its stand and, with a planet in our grasp, we immediately decided to broaden our horizons from the United States to the entire world. It meant we didn't have to fold maps or pick a letter any longer; we simply had to give the globe a spin and, with eyes closed, stop it with a touch of a finger to find our new destination. On occasion we did have to go to a library and match our globe's coordinates with an updated world map because our fingers pointed to uninhabited space in a country that no longer existed, but cities and towns didn't vanish under new management, so we were always able to locate a place for our next adventure. Spinning our globe to find a new home worked remarkably well; we only found ourselves destined for the middle of open ocean once, even though so much of our planet is covered by water.
    Jack had a small inheritance. His father, Reginald Benson, had carefully selected conservative, but steady dividend paying stocks which passed to Jack after his father's death, and I was usually able to find a job teaching English to locals or tutoring the children of American ex-pats wherever we went. Jack held a B.S. in botany and indulged in his passion for studying local flora as we traveled. He produced three scholarly works which were published by his alma mater, but they were hardly titillating best-sellers. We had to be careful with money because we never had a great deal of it. It didn't matter. For more than fifty years - until his glorious heart gave out - we had the life we wanted, the life we loved living.
    I also believe it was my name being Mags that led me to enjoy the company of men more than women - well that, and the fact that I have more of Father in me than Mother. I do have female friends who count as more than mere acquaintances, but they are few in number and all are past sixty, a requirement for me to feel close to them. Women younger than that trouble me. They aren't old enough to have been aware of what it was like just a few decades ago when women weren't allowed to control their bodies or their purse-strings. Their lack of years isn't their fault, but they should read some history so they understand. A quick little look at recent history and they'd never have stood for some talk-show natterer who thinks his opinion is as weighty as he is, saying stupid things about how he'd never vote for Hillary Clinton for President because he couldn't stand to see her age in office. They'd boycott his show, and they'd be right to do it.
    Of course, it's possible I prefer the company of men because they generally seem less well suited to learning patience and acceptance than women are. You don't hear "long suffering" ascribed like a badge of honor to men like you do to women. I think that's because men don't bear children: they've never had their bodies taken over by a being growing inside them and been acculturated to think of it as a normal part of life, a blessing as it were. And since I'm what in the old days was called barren, maybe that's why I've never learned patience and acceptance either.
    That's probably why I'm sitting here staring at the Great Seal Of California displayed on the courtroom wall behind the judge's bench, wishing the jury would come back, rather than counting my blessings that they haven't. This day has been a long time coming - it's been more than six months since Harvey and I began plotting - and I want to get on with it, however things turn out.