Bay Reflections
Vol. 9, No. 41
October 11-17, 2001
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Second Child, Second Chance
by Sandra Olivetti Martin

In one corner of the world, as letter-writer James Hoage noted on this page last week, people are naming their children Osama. Here in Chesapeake Country, we’re expecting a lot of Cals. But my second grandchild came into the world at 8:21am on Thursday, October 4, 2001, as Elsa.

Her full moniker is Elsa Leigh Knoll, and each name of it resonates. But it’s Elsa I can’t get past, for she is the second Elsa in my life. And full well though I know this seven-pound, not-quite-10-ounce infant will grow into her own woman, I can’t help believing she gives the first Elsa a second chance.

The first Elsa could use it.

If you could navigate this world on natal grace alone, my mother could have had it as her oyster. Elsa Olivetti had, in her own way, the will of Mussolini, the beauty of Marilyn Monroe, the inventiveness of both Wright brothers, the playfulness of a young cat and the work ethic of Cal Ripkin. She believed she could do anything, and she just about could. A poor child of immigrant parents, she bought her piece of the American dream by hard work — and the good luck to be working hard in World War II’s boom economy. By her 30s, all the hallmarks of 1950s’ success were hers: She wore furs and diamonds and drove convertible Cadillacs.

But Elsa Olivetti was not lucky in love, and for its lack not all her gifts together could compensate.

For her namesake, fate has opened a different book. Our new little Elsa is born into prosperity if not peace. Loving her with tenderness as well as fierceness, her mother, my daughter-in-law, will be no Catherine Olivetti, as hard on her daughter as fate was on her. Her father, my son, who blooms in her presence and can change diapers too, will share in bringing her up. Her brother, 13-month-old Jack, will be as blessed as she by love and goods and plenty.

Ringing round that four with love are circles of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and great-grandparents — even to her 90-year-old great-grandfather Leighton, who gives her second name.

Elsa Leigh has been born lucky in love, and in her life I’ll see each day the proof of what enough love, enough time and good times can do to nourish the great gifts we are born to. If I am lucky, I will live to see this Elsa redefine my standard of human potential.

For each of us in her adoring circle, Elsa keeps a different promise. For Lisa Edler, her mother, she brings ‘Elsa Ledler’ out of the nicknaming society of chanting girls into the flesh. For Alex, her father, she is his own Elsa, as he was Elsa’s own Alex. For Bill, she is the closest thing to a daughter. For John, she balances the scale of progeny: two sons and a grandson; two daughters and a granddaughter. For Marilyn and Howard, she mirrors for their daughter the matched set of their own family.

For herself and for each of us, Elsa has already satisfied her first challenge: How a second child coming so soon can make her own place in a family that seemed complete without her. For she has given each of us something we lacked but never dreamed to count as ours.

Some of us will call her Ellie. Some of us, blessed with an Uncle Elsworth, say they’ll call her Els or simply El.

I don’t know what I’ll call her. Elsa is a big name for a tiny baby, and everytime I hear it, I shiver. Whatever I call her, in naming their daughter her parents have given me the gift of hope. My hope is that one of us can complete another. Out of time, out of reason, out of touch — and without becoming less ourselves.

So I am enrolled in the sorority of double entendre, whose members hear one name and evoke two people. For Bridget, Tessa is not only daughter but a sister dead too soon. For April, James is not son but a young soldier dead in Vietnam. And for me: Elsa brackets my life.

We all hear echoes every time we hear our new love’s name.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly