What’s in a Name?
Cotton attended The Academy, a small, private kindergarten through twelfth grade school that advertised college preparatory courses in small class settings. Her parents first moved her to The Academy in fifth grade to avoid mandatory desegregation of the small southern town’s elementary schools. Next year for sixth grade, Cotton would have been forced to go to middle school at Booker T. Washington in the former “colored” high school building. For Cotton’s parents, that building was “not a good fit” for their daughter. So she continued from the elementary school at The Academy to the Upper School that housed a middle and high school.
Cotton’s first class was with Mrs. Hairston for English. When the bell rang, she joined her classmates as they scurried out the hall. They all looked a bit lost and confused as they bobbed and weaved around the taller, much cooler upperclassmen. Cotton found Mrs. Hairston’s room just in time to slink into a seat before the tardy bell rang.
“Welcome, students! I am Mrs. Hairston.” She elongated the vowels so it seemed that it took forever for Hah-ston to roll out of her mouth. A willowy woman with tight pin curls that framed her perfectly made-up face, she wore a sensible Madras plaid shirtdress, matching Izod belt, and espadrilles. “This year we are going to split our time between learning to write academic research papers and reading some great works of literature. Before I hand out your textbooks, do you have any questions?”
Cotton raised her hand tentatively.
“Your name is Hahston? But it’s spelled H-A-I-R-S-T-O-N?”
“So why isn’t that Hairston? What English rule changes the air to an ah?” The question seemed innocent enough. Little did Cotton know she was digging a deep hole for herself early in the semester.
“Because my husband’s father was a Hahston and his father before him and his father before him.” She picked up the glasses that hung from the gold chain around her neck and peered over them. “What is your name?”
“Mary Haskell Pridmore, but my friends call me Cotton.”
Mrs. Hairston took a deep breath and released it slowly. Looking over her tortoise shell half lenses she said, “I see. Your mother is a writer and editor at the paper?”