Leading Lady

gigi1.jpg My mother’s name is Gladys, and the name just doesn’t fit her. She’s felt that way all her life. So, years ago, she started coming up with new names and identities, as her inner spirit looked to break free from her outer Gladys.

The first time Gladys became someone else was at the start of her freshman year at the University of Illinois. She was among the ninety percent of the girls at school who were from Chicago, and Gladys wanted to establish herself as different and exotic. So she made up a story that her father worked for the diplomatic corps in India.

The response was phenomenal.

After passing herself off as an American living in Bombay, her phone was ringing off the hook. All the guys wanted to go out with her. Everyone wanted to get to know the girl from Bombay.

When Gladys went out on all these dates, she’d drop the Bombay story and would tell them the truth – some she told on the first date, others she held off for a while. But none of them were disappointed. They were having too many laughs to be disappointed. In fact, it made Gladys seem even more intriguing. So the guys kept calling, and Gladys’s popularity kept growing.

It was at college where my mother met my father, but it was after the Bombay story had ended its run. But that didn’t mean my father wasn’t subjected to my mother’s identity changes.

gigi2.jpg After they were married, Gladys began going by different first names.

Whenever they played golf and were paired up with another twosome, Gladys would introduce herself as Diana, Barbara, Joanne, anything but Gladys, and it would make my father crazy.

Finally, he asked her, “Would you please stop doing that? I don’t know what to call you.”

That isn’t usually the kind of thing that needs to be said fifty-seven years into a marriage, but Gladys knows how to keep things interesting.

Recently, a jeweler called my parents’ house, and my father answered the phone.

The jeweler said, “Tell Gigi the necklace is ready.”

“You’ve got the wrong number,” my father said. “There’s no Gigi here.”

“Yes, there is!” my mother called out from another room.

Gladys had already tried out the name once before in a department store. She saw a jacket she liked, but wasn’t sure if she was going to buy it or not. So she asked the saleswoman to put it aside for her – under “Gigi”. And when the saleswoman responded to the name, saying, “Oh, that’s cute,” my mother thought to herself, “Now, I’m on to something.”

gigi3.jpg The outer Gladys had discovered the inner Gigi. And Gladys has been Gigi ever since.

My mother finally found a name that’s true to her spirit. She finds such joy in calling herself by the same name as the title character in one of her favorite musicals. She’s thrilled that she now has a theme song.

She doesn’t have that as Gladys. No one’s written a hit song about a girl named Gladys. Shakespeare didn’t write about Romeo and Gladys. It’s a name usually reserved for comedic characters, not leading ladies. And my mother has always been a leading lady. From Gladys to Gigi. From here to Bombay.

Robert Keats is a screenwriter and humorist.