Irene Panke Hopkins: Behind the Name

For nearly 31 years my name was Irene Panke. Then, after marrying, my name became Irene Hopkins and stayed that way for 27 years. For the next 30 or so it will be a combination of the two.

Here’s why.

One day while I was creeping around the internet, trying to figure out what had happened to an old boyfriend and still stubbornly refusing to succumb to Facebook, I simply typed his name in and, voila! Up came a bunch of stuff about him.

That got me thinking. What if someone was looking for me? And what if they did not know my married name? So I typed in my given name, Irene Panke. Amazingly I got a hit – a link to a blog called The Man Who Would be King by a writer whose blogger name is John King 1956. The post that contained my name, referred to a children’s birthday party that sounded vaguely familiar:

In second grade I remember Irene Panke crying at her birthday party because she didn’t get her ass in a chair fast enough. I gave her mine and then got in trouble for cutting into her cake. The party ended on a high note with a long kiss from a girl who had hair like Jean Harlow.

From the musical chairs post. Painting by Tom Fath.


Whaaaaaat????  I was born in 1956 and we played musical chairs at all my birthday parties. But I had no recollection of a John King and, while my short-term memory is questionable these days, I distinctly remember my grammar school classmates. I must have read the post six straight times and, convinced that this was about me, decided to send this John King 1956 an email that, in so many words asked, “Who are you?”

After a few days, I received a stunned reply from “John King,” a pen name for a man who was my kindergarten boyfriend. A boy named Tommy whom I loved all those years ago. A boy who risked life and limb to sit on the girls’ side of the kindergarten classroom just to be next to me before we were dismissed. A boy I remember as chubby and  sweet and easy to be with. A boy with whom I was my best self before kids got really mean and focused on all my flaws. There was no game involved. It was a natural and pure relationship. And I never forgot him. Tommy. Continue reading “Irene Panke Hopkins: Behind the Name”