Thank You, Katharine Hepburn

(Excerpt from Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous Tales From a Pacific Northwest Writer)

Every year at Christmas time I get to thinking about Katharine Hepburn even though she is no longer with us.

My daughter was born in December, three days after Christmas. I was lying in a hospital bed just after her birth, feeling a bit discombobulated from the whole thing, when a woman carrying a clipboard walked into my room.

“What are you going to name your child?” she asked, her pencil poised. From her official-sounding voice, I could only assume it was her job to enter every new name into some big book. But in my woozy state I couldn’t think of one.

“Well you’d better give it some thought,” the woman warned. “I’ll be back. Soon. Make up your mind.”

But how was I supposed to name this infant I’d only just met? I could call my daughter Jean, I thought. It was my mother’s middle name, my sister’s name and the name of a friend. Or I could name her Holly, which, because of her due date, had been suggested by more than one acquaintance and a name my husband liked. But when the clipboard lady walked in again, I still hadn’t decided.

“Well,” she announced firmly. “I can’t let you take the child home without a name.” And with that she marched out.

Could she do that? I wondered. In my confused state, I thought perhaps there was some obscure law, some entry in a legal ledger that said a child who is not immediately named reverts to the care of the state. I didn’t know, but the clipboard lady sounded like she meant business.

So I paced the hospital halls in my bathrobe and slippers, trying to make up my mind. I had to come up with a name and I had to do it fast. I walked the corridors, sometimes alone, sometimes with my husband Dave. Furrow-browed, I barely noticed the two-story Christmas tree still standing, brightly lit, in the lobby.

Then it came to me. I could call her Katharine. After Katharine Hepburn, the crisp actress I’d so long admired. I could spell it Katherine, to make things easier and I could call her Kate for short. That was it. I was sure. I could see her now, my newborn daughter, all grown up, sharp and opinionated, just like Kate. And I would use the other names, too. All of them. No need to pick and choose.

“Can a person have four names?” I asked Dave. He seemed to think it would work.

And so we named her Katherine Holly Jean Woods, and the clipboard lady let us go home. Within a matter of days, however, it became obvious that our daughter wasn’t a crisp Kate but a sweet Holly, which is what we’ve been calling her ever since.


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