The summer between sixth and seventh grade, my little gal pals and I made a decision that would change the course of my life forever! Fervently they helped me choose a nickname because nicknames were in big at that time; Peggy became Peg, Dorothy became Dot, and my all time favorite Drusilla became Droopy,tho' she didn't know it!
Then—heaven help me—I became, well let me tell you who I did not become. The gals mulled over Pinky, I did not, I hated that name, not the right pizzazz, and the next suggestion was Penny, nope, not quite right. We thought we would go with the color of my hair as the basis for fashioning my new name, as I was Rhea Beverly and that was not good for slicing and dicing!
My hair was the darkest auburn that God makes yet you could see the red in it, the phrase “Auburn headed woodpecker sittin’ on a fence trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents!” somehow did not have the same ring to it as red-headed wood………, and my friends made sure to ring that out loud and clear! I also opted for something boyish and western, as in pre-teen cowgirl-ish. I didn’t even consider Rhea—pronounced Ray—because it had to be new and daring; Beverly sounded like a prissy, bossy old lady, Bev didn’t appeal either because after you stopped saying it , you never really finished the Bevvvv just went on forever. After spending the long, hot, muggy June day in deliberation, we decided on the neat—as in cool—name of… oh you know, “Rusty”!
I thought “Rusty” would be a summer name, ha! This was a name I could swagger and sway with, I was already practicing to walk like a teenager, you remember, swing just a little and swish your skirt, not too much though. Seems like I was thinking of “cowboy” already at that tenderfoot stage, I mean ...I was in my double digit years, and I had already given up orange soda for “Coke” and that was a mile-marker on my way to maturity.
I need to back up a little. At the beginning of the summer I had done some something awful, “I stole an apple.” I always tell it that way, but actually it was several, more like three could have been four. I saw them while on a morning stroll, the apple tree was loaded and the ones I stole had fallen to the street, perhaps one was on the grass (maybe two). They were shiny, green and hard, bringing about an epic stomach ache that I've tried very hard to forget. So by the time my name change came around and because of my active, though hidden sin nature, my crime had toughened me. The name “Rusty” seemed to fit, not soft in any way, it wasn’t especially a boys name—more like a cocker spaniel—but I loved it “It” was me!
I ignored my mother’s tender feelings because that was just the way it was, the way the ball bounced, and she should have never named me Rhea Beverly in the first place. Even after I took the time to explain it to her, she could still could not believe that her—sometimes dainty—daughter would ever in this world want to be called “Rusty”, such an ugly sound, "Oh yes!" I thought the name could burn in my throat if I say it just right!
With this new name I lost my shyness forever and that formed the “new and better me”, or so I thought, and I thought about it a lot! Ha! I would laugh over my shoulder the way I had seen Susan Hayward do in the movies, she was my auburn haired idol. However it was a learning experience and I learned not to do the head toss while riding a bicycle because I did not necessarily get the last “Ha!” my audience did, and in those days, after the name change, I always had an audience.
Wow, how the years exploded away after I had asserted myself, claimed my independence and changed my name—not for the summer but into infinity—and here I am, I have never stolen another apple and never had to go to jail for doing it. I found my handsome cowboy, I am no longer tough. I have been tenderized by life, and time, and three more little redheads their life loves, and the six extra heartbeats they have given me.
It has come to my attention recently, the very reason my nick-name was chosen has had a radical, almost insidious shift, “Rusty” no longer describes my hair so much—though from time to time it is redder than it has ever been—but rather my bones, my body, and my thinking process, I’m actually getting “Rustier”! When all is said and done, and I dwell on that long ago summer, I’m still thinking..... yeah….“It IS me!”