What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet. – William Shakespeare

Juliet’s famous balcony scene from Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ relates to my reflection today on the passing of my grandfather, Gilbert Drousé (Papa).  This article is written in his loving memory and supports my grieving process in the wake of his death.

Every person I connect with in my life touches me in some way. I take them with me as I continue life’s journey.

I’ve been really fortunate to have a loving family that consists of many beautiful and unique people – some I’m in contact with daily and others a bit more infrequently.  Sometimes family relationships aren’t black and white, and involve drama, misunderstandings, confusion, questionable motivations and result in estrangement.  Unfortunately, that was my experience with Papa but I’d like to reflect on positive aspects of our relationship and my fond childhood memories.

In the first 12 years of my life growing up in Las Vegas, USA, I have really beautiful memories of spending time with my grandma Shirley Drousé (Nanny) and Papa.

My relationship with Nanny and Papa taught me many things, but mostly about: compassion and caring for others and love for animals.

Nanny was a beautiful, vibrant woman with a gorgeous smile, lovely red hair, exciting stories of her many suitors during her youth.  She had such a warm heart.  Most of her later life while I was growing up was riddled with many health problems from diabetes to heart ailments.  She was in and out of hospital and required assistance and support from family.  Papa cared for Nanny and also worked as a chef in several Las Vegas restaurants.  I recall him administering daily insulin injections and caring for her, until her death.  His actions, regardless of his motivations, taught me the importance of caring for family, especially when they are unwell.

Nanny and Papa loved their pets.  And, I loved visiting their house to play with them.  They had a fantastic, talkative macaw named Poco with bright green feathers and red accents.  Tommy, their grey cat joined the family later, and he was a very sweet and soft kitty.

I became very attached to Toby and Fritzy, their adorable black, miniature doberman pinschers.  I have happy memories of them and learned to be loving and gentle with dogs and other animals.  Toby was very playful and Fritzy was cautious because he had lived in an abusive home before coming to live with Nanny and Papa.  Papa worked with me to gain their trust and taught me to be very gentle and patient.  When I was around 3 years old, I remember the day when I was able to sit in the arm chair with Toby and Fritzy snuggling on either side of me – I had such a feeling of accomplishment that I gained the trust of both dogs and I could pet both of them at the same time while they cuddled up to me.

I have many other fond memories about Nanny and Papa.  They had a fabulous pink house on the corner of a Las Vegas residential street with a massive, deep pool with diving board where I re-learned how to swim, colorful rose garden, volcanic rock-lined front yard (collected by Papa and my dad in the Las Vegas desert), vintage pin-up picture in the spare bedroom, ‘haunted chandelier’ in the dining room that the dogs would bark at often, comfortable arm chairs with elevating foot rests, large chiming clock, and classic board games like Ants in the Pants, Ouija Board and Monopoly.  I loved going for rides in their luxurious Cadillac, having my hair brushed with a red, soft-bristled brush that was designated just for me, coloring and painting in the kitchen, eating Ritz crackers with peanut butter, packing my red ‘going to grandma’s house’ suitcase, receiving Hanukkah gifts like work-out Barbie in bright blue spandex, pricking my finger on the indoor cactus that looked soft, swimming and holding my breath in the pool (having a potty accident and running to the bathroom with a big mess!), jumping off the diving board and doing lots of showing-off tricks, and working up an appetite to eat dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Macayo’s, with amazing chips and salsa where I fed my dad maraschino cherries that he pretended to devour.

Although I haven’t had much contact with Papa over the last 16 years after Nanny’s passing, his legacy will remain with me as part of my identity – my name.  I’m often asked if I’m French and I always say, I’m actually American with Turkish/Jewish heritage but my last name is my step-grandfather’s who is of French Canadian decent.  Complicated, I know, but this has been an important element of my identity.  I love my name.  It’s unique, and I don’t know anyone else called, Michelle Deniz Drousé.

From her balcony, Juliet proclaims, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” Juliet is frustrated that her love, Romeo, is from a rival family, thus making them enemies simply because of his name.  At the core, a name shouldn’t make people enemies and presuppose relationships.

I agree with Juliet.  But, I also believe that a name is a reflection of one’s identity.  It’s the first thing you say upon introducing yourself.  It’s on your identification cards, passports, driving licenses, bills, and it’s your signature.  It is a representation of who you are.  But, it’s up to you to develop the persona with ethical motivations and a good reputation linked to the name – and I’m doing my best to learn from my family, friends and community, so that I can connect with others and leave a positive legacy.

I’m really happy that my dad organized a reunion with Papa in Las Vegas a few years ago after being estranged for most of my adult life post-Nanny’s passing.  Papa was frail but feeling well enough to visit.  We took him to the barber where we got him a shave and a haircut and then took him to a local’s casino for a meal and a bit of gambling.  That moment, seeing him again after 15 years, was cathartic and emotional for me.  And, I’m glad I shared that with my sister, Nicole.  I wish I could be with my family during this time, and I’m sending my love to you from a distance.

I wish I had a photo of Nanny and Papa with me in London to share with this article.   Instead, I’ve included a photo of roses – symbolizing my loving memory of my grandparents who comprise part of my identity that I carry with me on my life’s journey.

May they both rest in peace. Allah rahmet eylesin.

Author: mdrouse5

Social entrepreneur, consultant and dance producer committed to community, sustainability and equality.