Have I mentioned that Iris’s middle name is Bryn?
It’s a Welsh name, Welsh blood being the only trace of anything like “heritage” I’ve got. In my family, English and Scottish and German and who knows what are lost among Coal Miner and Pioneer and First Mayor of Portland, but somehow a flicker of Welsh identity survives, mainly in the form of being cantankerous (more so in old age) and eating leg of lamb with mint sauce at every opportunity.
All things Swedish and Norwegian—via A’s family—tend to dominate around here, and it was only for fear of our home seeming like a farm for wee Scandinavians that we resisted naming our second-born Berit (a name I love and regret not using) or Freya. A Welsh middle name seemed only fair.
For years, my tough, witty grandmother lived right about here in a cabin that she and her long-time love built together on the power of gin and tonic. Photos show her, wiry and tan at nearly 50, raising roof trusses wearing cowboy boots and a leopard-print bikini top.
Unlike my other grandparents’ spare, classically tasteful homes, this place was appointed in glorious mid-1970s style. Thick, orange carpet. A firm white pleather sectional couch. A stack of three-legged tables, easy to distribute where needed to hold drinks and ashtrays.
Did you look at the photo in that link? The place was splendid. You could hear the river all the time. The woods were thick and musty and ferny, full of life and rot, and on the best days the mountain seemed close enough to touch. I learned there how it is to be somewhere beautiful. How to find watery orange salmonberries in the roadcut. How to spot the biggest banana slugs at the edges of puddles.
And in the other world inside her house I learned to enjoy things my parents—my mom, especially—seemed to consider dangerous: the smell of tobacco smoke, the stacks of forbidden-seeming magazines (Redbook! Sex was mentioned!), the more than occasional use of four-letter words.
My grandmother called that place Bryn. I believe she thought it meant beautiful. I understand the real Welsh meaning is mountain, or—more likely—hill. To me, Bryn is a place where you learn to be a little wild, a place where you can hear the mountain singing. A place where all around are things bigger than you. And that’s what we gave our baby, right in the middle of her name.