I was born in Philadelphia 1973 and given the name Marissa Andrea Woloszczuk. I am of Ukrainian and Polish decent, first generation.
When I was at the age of playing with and giving names to my dolls, I hated my own name. I liked “Linda” and “Rhonda.”
Marissa was an uncommon name. Perhaps to make me feel better about it, Mom told me that John Wayne had named his daughter similarly, although hers only had one “S.” “Zhadonna” and “Melody” were also considered. Melody would have been ok.
I grew up in Parkwood Manor, in the Great Northeast. Our middle class row home neighborhood was made up of primarily Irish, Italian and German descendants who had long since assimilated to the American way. This was (and still is) a blue collar neighborhood of cops, firemen and regular working folk. My father preferred to identify with the Ukrainian side of our heritage. “You are … Ukrainian?” All throughout school, no one ever seemed to have heard of the country.
In 6th grade, my classmates at St. Anselm School were preparing to make the Sacrament of Confirmation. As a baby, according to our custom, I was baptized and confirmed on the same day at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral where my parents were married. I was still required though to memorize the prayers and declarations to take the necessary written tests for Religion class. The exciting part for me however was the opportunity to take a new name, an honorary confirmation name! The custom of adopting a saint’s name is done in order to honor a saint to whom one had a special devotion. Christina was my choice, “Marissa Andrea Christina”; it was girly and cute and familiarly American, and for Christ! It didn’t stick though.
Going to the mall or shopping down the shore never proved successful in finding personalized mementos that featured my uncommon name. How I longed for such an item! Any junky accessory such as a mug or a magnet or a mini license plate for my bike would have sufficed! Always with excitement and a glimmer of hope, I would scan down the M section – Marie, Mary, Megan, Melissa…..nope. I would always re-check two or three times, just to make sure I didn’t miss my name somehow. On the very odd occasion that they did have a “Marisa” – oh that would frustrate me – so very close! Why did my name have to have two S’s?
In my teen years, my perspective shifted. In contemplating my identity, I began to take pride in the differences that made me stand out from the other kids. This is about the time when I decided to pronounce my middle name differently. Rather than the “ANN-drea” that my parents intended, I thought “AHN-drea” sounded cooler. Sometimes I would put the emphasis on the middle syllable: “ahn-DREY-a”. I relished the fact that the interior of our house was nothing like anyone else’s in the neighborhood. I loved having new friends over for the first time to show off our classy décor. We had a real Persian rug in the living room. My father gave me and my brother the task of “combing the carpet” fringe of the rug so that each strand lay perfectly straight and separated. The matching silver chenille couches were fabulous. In the late 70’s my father had a wood burning fireplace put in. We must have been the only row home in our zip code to do so because apparently the neighbors were concerned. Next to the fireplace, they decided to extend the brick work to cover the length of the wall. I vividly remember watching my parents using black shoe polish in horizontal strokes to add dimension and weathering to the red brick facade. We probably had the only “interior” brick wall in Parkwood too. Track lighting was added to highlight the real art that hung “salon style” on our brick wall (and it served as a backdrop for all three years of prom pictures). But what tied everything together in perfect harmony was all of my mother’s fabulous Ukrainian handiworks on display: the embroidered table cloth that took a year to make; the starched diamond shaped servetka’s uniformly draped from each shelf; the many Pysanky eggs; the collection of ceramic-ware that featured traditional geometric designs.
So on one memorable trip to the mall – it was either Oxford Valley or Neshaminy – they were having a special craft show with unique vendors. Alas, there was a man who could beautifully bend gold-filled wire in cursive handwriting to make name pins on the spot! Well, it wasn’t a ready-made, but I finally found my name.
Embroidery is the signature component to the Ukrainian aesthetic. It is utilized in clothing fashion and for the decoration of homes and churches. When my grandmother passed I came into possession of several servetka’s that she had embroidered. A servetka is used to decorate a table or shelf; often a special object is placed on top so as to highlight the object.
“Marissa” is lovingly and proudly attached to Babcia’s servetka.