I contend that there is much more in a name than Shakespeare recognizes. A rose just might not entice one as well if it were called an onion. As she often does, Kimberly Willis Holt has stirred a memory just by the name she has chosen for a character in her newest book The Lost Boy’s Gift.
Tilda Butter, a strong secondary character, made me think of Miss Tilda Ray from the Black Zion community in Pontotoc County where I spent a pleasant chunk of my childhood. The legend said the community name came from the unpainted Baptist church contrasting with the White Zion Presbyterian church a few miles away. Evidently, the Presbyterians had enough money for paint.
My youngest sister Ruth was born there. As I have mentioned before, our pastor father had a visual disability that prevented his driving so Mama drove, which left them to find a safe place to leave us while they were about church business. Miss Tilda’s small frame house often afforded that safe place for all four of us and even more frequently for the baby who grew to be a toddler and loved Miss Tilda like the grandmother she never had.
One of the attractions at Miss Tilda’s, who was also “Aunt Tilda” to a large portion of the community, was the cookie jar on her cabinet counter that she kept stocked with her homemade teacakes for nieces, nephews, preacher’s kids, drop-in company, repairmen, – you get the picture. Everybody who lived in Zion, and maybe in Pontotoc County, assumed if you showed up at Miss Tilda’s, there would be teacakes.
Ruth headed for the kitchen as soon as she was inside the door at Miss Tilda’s every time we came, straight toward the cookie jar. One day Miss Tilda must have gotten behind herself, and there were no cookies. She saw Ruth’s distress and took out a box of vanilla wafers from the cabinet to offer her. Ruth was having none of that, but Miss Tilda was clever. She turned her back, put the vanilla wafers in the cookie jar, and offered them to Ruth. Ruth was satisfied and ate three or four.
Tilda Butter, of The Lost Boy’s Gift, makes sugar cream pies for her neighborhood. In my mind as I read, I pictured another sweet little old lady we called Miss Tilda (must have been at least fifty!) who made teacakes, and I know Kimberly’s chosen the perfect name. It just wouldn’t have been the same if she had called her Florence.