On December 8th 102 years ago, my grandmother Mary Eliza Livingston Haden was born and became the first Mary in our family. My mom and I both carry the name forward as best we can; the original is a hard act to follow.
When she was a tot, my grandmother contracted polio, which colored the rest of her life. Her childhood included more than a dozen surgeries, being pushed by her mother to exercise and do things on her own, looking different with her clubbed feet and uneven hips. When she was in her 80s she told me that she thinks the experience made her more compassionate towards other people who were different. Indeed, during the civil rights era, she was the privileged white lady who pushed others to think inclusively.
A faithful Christian, she served her church and mentored many would-be priests. I am certain that if she had been born 30 years later she would have been a bishop. She didn’t have a lot of patience with people who clung to tradition for tradition’s sake and was usually leading the way when it came to liturgical updates, gender equality, or even LGBT inclusion. (She was Carter Heyward’s godmother.)
She did a lot of things she was not supposed to because of her health. She danced, drove a car, had three children. I guess the risk proved worthwhile because she later was Gaga to seven grandchildren and got to meet three of her nine great-grands.
Gaga had a good sense of humor and was sometimes funny without meaning to be. After a particularly bad illness she told me her electrolytes almost went out. A sharp wit was a good trait if you were married to Bob Haden, a character in his own right. (Really, he could be an honorary Mary with the stories we have on him.)
For this reason and so many more, Mary Livingston Haden is the first Mary to be inducted into the Hall of Marys. Others will follow, some more well known, some still living. I know she will welcome them all with Southern hospitality and her famous pickled shrimp.