When I was born in East Tennessee, oh, quite a few years ago, my parents Roy and Arzelia Allen named me for a dear friend of theirs named Anna Marie. In the Southern way, their friend was called by both names, and so was I.
Mama was very close to her family so, along with my parents and my 15-months-younger sister Lisa, it was my maternal family that was my world.
As for Daddy’s family, his mother Darcus Montgomery died when he was only 4 months old. A handful of times we visited Daddy’s illiterate father Hodge and stepmother Sarah, but she was a hardbitten, husk of a woman who decided on a whim if she wanted to see the lot of us. When she was of a mind, we visited them to the horror of my sister and me. Both Hodge and Sarah were avid snuff-chewers, and tobacco juice would drip from the sides of their mouths as they kissed my sister and me on the cheek. Sticky cheek, truly revolting, made me want to throw up.
Even though I was a naive girl with no experience with such things, Hodge seemed lecherous toward us, not at all grandfatherly, and I detested him to touch me. Sarah’s manner was mercurial, sometimes a raspy-voiced viper, and other times smooth as silk. However, when I was quite young, she decided she did not want to see my family anymore to my great relief.
Deep inside me there must have been a little alien girl growing because my instincts were not the same as any of the family members I knew. No one in my family was a reader, yet during the summer between my first and second grade years, I read more books than any other child in the book-reading competition at our local branch of the library.
I was fascinated with ideas, the people and places I discovered in books, politics, and history. I wanted to know, be educated, and decide what I believed for myself. That independent young girl that I was wrestling to become decided in the 6th grade, around the age of 11, that she really wanted to be called Anna, not Anna Marie which sounded childish. So my first name change was born.
Besides getting an education and making a difference in the world, my greatest aspiration was to be deeply known, understood, and loved by a young man of excellent character who would share my world. Wanting to learn, however, was not popular in my high school, and neither was being a good girl and waiting till you were married to have sex. Thus I was not considered a catch and no one wanted to date me. A new boy moved to town (just like in the movies!), didn’t know I was considered boring, and wanted to go out with me. We went steady, kissed all over the school, and after we broke up my stock value went up, up, up. But as you can imagine, not for the right reasons. I dated three boys at my high school–and the relationships lasted exactly three months each. I found that being a good girl had its limitations.
During the summer before my senior year, I was encouraged in my quest for love when I met a preacher’s son named Dell from Kentucky on a church youth group trip. Voila! He was interested in my fantastic mind! Ta-da! On the downside, our long-distance relationship meant I had no dates my senior year, but I didn’t mind as we wrote long letters to each other, and I dreamed of our future. Before we graduated, I got a letter from him saying he wanted to date the choral director’s daughter, and my dreams of a a future with Dell ended.
My family was poor, so I enrolled in the University of Tennessee with the assistance of two, one-year scholarships and a government grant, called the Basic Education Opportunity Grant (BEOG). No one in my family had ever attended college, so being a first-generation striver was a real challenge. I was fairly lost at the large, public university I attended, knew no one, and grew tired of being poor. So after my freshman year, when my one-year scholarships were over, I dropped out of school to get a full-time job.
At my first job at the age of 18, I met a man, dated him, and married him all within three months. [To those of you who are considering such a foolish move, let me just say, I’ve tried it, and it seriously doesn’t work!] My reasons for marrying were not good, and I had no idea what I was getting into. When I married, of course, I took my husband’s name, so I became Anna Marie Garrison.
No years of the marriage were good, and even on our honeymoon my husband was a different man from the one I dated. He was domineering, emotionally abusive, did not want me to spend time with my family, and was completely unpredictable. I tried to leave him many times, but my family did not believe in divorce.
I wanted children, so I got pregnant, hoping (I suppose) things would get better. But after I had my adorable son Justin, my marriage grew more difficult than ever. I worked full-time as a secretary at the university; did all the cleaning, cooking, and taking care of our son; and yet it was never enough. When you are married to a sociopath, enough is never enough. My husband was such a good liar that I began to doubt things that I knew to be true. I wanted to shield my son from growing up in a home with such a man.
When I finally thought I could support Justin and me on my tiny secretary’s salary, I left my husband. However, women at that time were encouraged to keep their husband’s last name if they had a child. So even though he stalked and harrassed me for years after our divorce, I was still Anna Garrison.
A few weeks after I left my first husband, I was readmitted to the University of Tennessee. Luckily since I worked full-time at the university I could take two free classes each quarter so I attended school part-time until I earned my degree five years later.
In my final year of college, I met a fellow student, younger than me by seven years, and we grew serious rather quickly. So after we both graduated from UT, we married, and I became Anna Lane.
Our little family of three moved to Texas for my second husband to accept an engineering job with General Dynamics. A couple of years after we married, my second husband and I had a little boy who we called Aidan. Sadly our wee one had gastroesophagial reflux and he would cry incessantly after each time I fed him. My husband was attending graduate school part-time, we had two children, little money, and a sick baby. We also had no help since our families were in Tennessee, not Texas. Our marriage deteriorated. I got a job in Knoxville, and took my two children back home, leaving my husband in Texas to sell the house. I got a job as a technical editor at an engineering consulting firm, then returned to the university as director of communications in the development office. My husband got a job in Georgia, and moved there. We grew further apart, and divorced soon after.
Soooo, in a very Elizabeth Taylorian, many marriages, kind of way, my last name had been Allen, then Garrison, then Lane. Now with a second divorce, I did not want to return to being Anna Allen, that girl who was foolish enough to marry a man she had only known three months. Neither did I want to remain Anna Lane. So as a tribute to Daddy and his mother Darcus who died when he was 4 months old, I decided to take her maiden name and become Anna Montgomery.
A few years later when I married a man who is my best friend and soul mate, he agreed that I should not change my name and Anna Montgomery I stayed.
Nearly 20 years later, Kurt and I began searching for information about my long lost grandmother’s Montgomery family. Fortunately Darcus and her loved ones were Mormon, and we found a treasure trove of genealogical records available through the Latter Day Saints’ websites and search engines. And we were able to find Darcus’s family in Utah and Kingsport, Tennessee. In a few weeks Kurt and I will fly to Salt Lake City to meet my cousins, the children and grandchildren of my grandmother’s siblings. I am proud to bear the name of my grandmother’s family. And Anna Montgomery I am.
//Anna – 3/31/2017