Saturday, September 5, 2009

What's in a name??

As kids, my cousin Becky and I shared poverty and a slightly more-dysfunctional-than-average extended family. Both of our families lived in rural Western NY. When we all got together, Becky and I talked, joked, and observed life in general, often while hiking miles of backcountry roads. We played cards and board games. We observed that her parents (our mothers were sisters) paid bills first and then bought food with what money was left. My parents bought food for the family first and then paid bills.
Those kids ate a lot of government surplus peanut butter.
My parents had just enough income so we couldn’t get surplus food. We kids felt peanut butter deprived.
Years later, as young adults, Becky and I liked each other’s spouses, shared meals and leisure time. Emmy and I babysat her kids as Becky did ours. I remember once spending the night on Becky’s couch, at her request, when her husband was out of town. She felt threatened by a much too friendly (and creepy) neighbor. I woke in the morning to see her toddler daughters bouncing up and down in their little brother’s crib, not far from where I slept in the living room. They seemed to mimic barefooted-wine makers, holding on to the sides of the crib, and “crushing grapes” with high steps. As I shook sleep off, I wondered where their baby brother, Jason was. I thought Becky must have moved him from the crib while I was asleep.
A bit of a squawk from the bottom of the little bed made me realize- he was the grapes they were stomping. I jumped up and quickly grabbed the girls one at a time, setting them on the floor next to the crib, frightening them in the process. In the dim light, I checked to see if the baby was alive and I found he had a little baby grin on his face. He loved his sisters to walk on him, or as probably was the case, mostly around him. I think they played the game often. Today he is a large, healthy, good-looking young man; it didn’t do him any harm.
A year ago, I called Becky. She lives in California now. It was great to hear her voice after all the years, but hard to talk with her. She had changed her first name to “beccarae,” pronounced ‘beck-ah-ray’. No capitol “B” as far as I know and no contractions allowed. Calling her “Beck” or “Becky” was a hard habit to break, and made her angry. I often use contractions such as “Sue” or “Jan.” Some people are offended; most realize worrying about it puts a damper on communication. Either way, it is not the same as a name change when you are forty.
Through the years, one thing I could, and still can, count on in my family is an enduring and offbeat sense of humor. I thought she and I had come to the end of the road as friends. If Becky was so self-involved with her new name that she couldn’t chuckle just a bit at herself, or she became angry when people called her by her original name, it was probably just as well that we didn’t talk.
We had a family reunion this summer. Relatives from all over showed up, as did Becky from the West coast. We talked and laughed for some time and I found her just as funny and insightful as I had many years ago.
Becky and I email each other, I wrote to her, “My name is Terry Stephan, you can call me Terry or you can call me Terrance or Steve (the often used, mispronounced contraction of ‘Stephan’) or Frank or Sparky or T-bone or ‘Hey you,’ others have and it hasn’t damaged me- ever.
It doesn’t matter what you call me, as long as you know who I am.” Becky wrote, “I know who you are, I love you anyway.”
Maybe we’ve reached a truce of sorts and maybe people call her ‘beccarae’ in her Western State, but I was happy to find that Becky is, by any other name, still Becky.

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