Who is it who has such a long name? My mother. The “Buchanan” at the end came later, when she married my father, but even before that, it’s a bit of a long name. This photo will give you a sense of why she inherited family-names-as-middle-names from her family roots. (Does anyone still publish announcements like this? Is there even such a thing anymore as this kind of social column? I imagine she would be around 18 in the picture, so around 1939.) The caption says:
MISS HARRIET PATTERSON
Miss Patterson, debutante daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Sterling Patterson and granddaughter of George Dobbin Penniman, will leave for New York February 13 to visit her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Sioussat.
If you’re interested in her mother’s side of the family, there are some genealogy books on the Pennimans, published in the 1980s, that are now available for digital borrowing from OpenLibrary.org. Her mother, my grandmother, was Harriet Wilson Dushane Penniman, given number 147.192.413 in the numbering system used in the books. So my mother would be number 147.192.413.1 (and I would be 147.192.413.13).
It was because she had such a string of long middle names herself that my mother gave me and my sisters no middle names at all. Since the culture’s convention is for women to take their husband’s last name and men to keep their own, my parents figured that my sisters and I would have our last name as a middle name if we ever married, and gave my brother one single middle name, a family name from my father’s side of the family.
My mother was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 17th, 1921. She died in France in May 2001.
I wanted to write up something very special about my mother today, to honour and celebrate her on her birthday, but I find myself at a loss for words. Let me give you a glimpse of her through this painting instead, a portrait she did of me when I was 8 years old.
She signed her artwork in various ways — her full name was Harriet Dushane Penniman Patterson Buchanan, which is a bit long and she never included it all. This painting, she signed simply Buchanan. It’s called “Mousey” for one very obvious reason, but I think perhaps also for another. When I was 8, I had a pet mouse to whom I gave that very straightforward (some would say unimaginative) name. Here we are, Mousey and I, in our quiet, gentle little world together. My mother took some artistic liberties in giving me lighter hair than I actually had at that time — I had gone from blond to brown at around age 4 — but I think she really captured something of the mousey shyness I experienced (sometimes painfully so) at age 8.
This is obviously not the first work she ever did, and not her only style. She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art as a young woman and although she never became well-known as an artist, she continued to paint and draw her whole life — well enough, I think, to deserve a little late recognition.
Someday I’d like to show you more of her paintings, sketches, and pen-&-ink illustrations, and there’s also so much else I’d like to say about who my mother was as a person, how she impacted me as her daughter and friend, and how fond of her everyone else who met her seemed to be as well. In the meantime, I thought sharing this oil painting with you would give you a glimpse of her talent, and help me lovingly celebrate at least this one facet of her, on her birthday.