I read a question posted on social media this morning that requested its audience to share how attached they are to their names. The author’s scale of attached-ness ranged from “my name is perfect, I like it lots” to “if you called me by a completely different name, I’d go by it”. I laughed out loud. I can’t be sure if it’s intentional, but the non-affirmative end of the scale is not precisely negative.
Naming a child has never been a straightforward task. What should be a joy for parents can easily morph into negotiations that would rival those of the Cuban Missile Crisis. There are those who feel a baby should be named after them. Namesakes are lovely tributes, but only if they’re voluntary. Then there are the unique names and the alternative spellings of common names; both of which are often met with blank stares in person and eye rolls in private.
Parents should name their kids whatever that little wrinkled face in the hospital blanket evokes. I mean, someone had to use Susan and Robert first. And nobody blinks when they talk about Prince, except during the time he changed his name to that symbol. Admittedly, that was awkward.
A name is a starting point. It’s literally one’s introduction to the world. Some would use that as an argument for giving an expected name: the child will have a hard time in school; no one can pronounce it; no one can spell it; yadda, yadda, yadda. While it comes from a place of love, this approach to naming is limiting. A name is also an invitation. It can spark conversation, build confidence, and grow an identity. At least that’s what I think of when I look at my signature.
From that last line, you may think that I bear a unique moniker. Alas, no. I have a very common first and middle name. My mother loves them and me, so I would not want to be called anything else. However, when I was born, the nurse who attended my birth wanted my mother to call me Nancy. Barely out from under the effects of the happy gas, and the name negotiations had begun.
According to the nurse, I had all the hallmarks of a Nancy. My mother resisted her arguments because she had a niece who was already Nancy and wanted us each to have our own identity. Considering what I am called, the irony of her decision is not lost on either of us today.
The greater irony is that, when I meet people for the first time, they think my name is Nancy. In grad school, I had a friend in my apartment building, Tom, who always called me Nancy. I corrected him the first few times. By the fourth time, I let it slide. Why fight the natural order of things? I let it slide for 5 years.
When someone else who knew my given name was with me when I’d meet him, they’d look at me funny when I’d reply to “Hey, Nancy!” or “Sup, Nance?”. But I didn’t mind. My friends thought I was nuts and doing Tom a disservice, making him look foolish. I explained to them his painful embarrassment when I would correct him and his profuse apologies, only to call me Nancy the next time I saw him. The way I interpreted it was that I was saved in his mind as his friend Nancy. Frankly, I saw nothing wrong with that.
I’ve taken a lot of math classes and dabbled in physics, so it got me thinking that there might be an alternate universe in which my mother heeded her nurse’s advice. In that universe, I also know Tom. This minor blip in which Tom sees me as Nancy is where the two collide.
I wonder what our pollster was really thinking about when they asked how attached we are to our name. Is the name truly that important, or is it the being who bears it? I attest to the latter. I’d rather have a world full of people whose names are tricky to spell or pronounce and whose hearts are full of adventure and kindness to a conveyor belt of recognizable syllables attached to human beings like labels on soup cans.
The one thing I am certain of, should I bump into Tom all these years later, is that he’d recognize me. He was that kind of guy, good with faces. He’d take one look at me and ask, “Nancy, is that you?” And I’d smile, happy to see him, and reply, “Who else would it be, Tom?”
Friday is trash day.
Each house hired a different truck.
That's total garbage.
One of winter’s unique pleasures is waking up to discover freshly fallen snow. I still feel the rush of wonder as I open the curtains to witness tumbling tufts of cotton candy falling from an opaque sky. Especially the kind of snow that’s perfect for catching on your tongue: fat flakes that you can make a meal of.
That’s exactly how the last day of February dawned this year: snowy and picturesque. Winter’s last gasp. Most people were grumbling at the forecast. It’s beginning to feel too late in the season for snow. Especially since winter has heretofore made little effort to assert itself. Naysayers make a valid point. However, since it fell on February 28th, this batch of snow squeaked in under the wire.
Today is March 1st. Or, as the folks in the weather biz like to call it, the start of meteorological spring. Pennsylvania-dwelling rodents be damned, it’s de facto spring now, folks. It may seem like an abuse of power, but meteorologists are uniquely positioned to bend the rules about the seasons. When you think about it, can we really blame them?
If they stick to the calendar of celestial events like good little druids, then spring doesn’t officially arrive until the vernal equinox on March 20th. Well, that’s not going to work. Everyone knows that snakes don’t come out in the winter. How are we supposed to reenact St. Patrick’s epic miracle of driving the snakes out of Ireland if we can’t find them? What are we supposed to do with all that green beer and all of those bad decisions waiting to be made? That’s a rhetorical question. I’m from Boston, we know exactly what to do with beer of any color and bad decisions are responsible for most of us being here.
If we have to wait until June 20th, the long Memorial Day weekend at the end of May can’t be billed as the kickoff to summer. Meteorologists would be forced to wait until summer’s true eve of June 20th to celebrate. Well, that’s wicked inconvenient. The 20th is going to move through the week from year to year, often landing on a weekday. And it won’t count as a day off. Plus, in these parts, people aren’t going to brave 50° F water unless they can, in good conscience, say that it’s at least summer. We’d be leaving all those
delusionaloptimistic souls in the shallows assuring us that “the water isn’t cold; you’ll get used to it” in the lurch. Setting aside the danger of hypothermia, summer feels pretty short, leaving us inclined to squeeze in every beach day we can. To paraphrase Massachusetts poet James Russell Lowell, what is so rare as a few weeks in June? Welp, if you don’t push them into summer, then they are rare spring days freezing on the sand at Salisbury Beach.
Considering the aforementioned perks we gain, I can’t really blame the weather folks for their temporal shenanigans. It’s not just spring and summer that benefit from shifting the seasons ahead by a few weeks. Fall, as most of us in the US call autumn, and winter benefit equally. Thanks to meteorologists, pumpkin spice
lunaticsenthusiasts can tell the rest of us to shut up as they sip their lattes on September 1st. And how is anyone supposed to get their halls adequately decked for Christmas if we have to wait until winter officially starts with the solstice on December 21st? It’s just too tight a deadline. It wouldn’t stand.
In spite of yesterday’s snow, March came in this morning like a lamb. I watched the snow disappear in the bright sunshine as the temperature rose well above freezing. Melted snow from the roof coursed down the drainpipes in a constant torrent. Cardinals, bluebirds, and blue jays flitted around the bird feeder in vibrant, spring plumage. The birds are blissfully unaware of what calendar we use to mark the seasons. They mastered seasonal logistics long before there were meteorologists. The spring migration has begun. Their journeys across oceans and continents are well underway. Maybe we humans should just leave it to the experts.
From the star up on top
to the gifts ‘neath its boughs;
And the perfume of pine
that wafts through the house;
A symbol of Yuletide
There’s nothing more noble
than the evergreen tree.
There’s something magical about winter’s first snowfall. Those initial flakes floating down from heaven spark delight in the hearts of small children and purveyors of bread and milk alike. Since it happened today, it’s technically the first snowfall of autumn. Although I don’t think I need to be precise about the timing. New England doesn’t stand on formality where its weather is concerned. It will as happily snow in October as in April. There’ve also been April showers that have lasted until June. The days we New Englanders live for, however, are those unseasonably warm winter days when Jack Frost drops the snowball.
In New England, spring is unpredictable and summer is over faster than your cousin from Southie can sunburn through his t-shirt. That’s probably why there’s an unwritten local rule that when the temperature cracks 55°F, it’s time to break out the shorts and flip-flops. The name of the month makes no difference. As soon as the air temperature clears the threshold for frostbite, the local vibe is to let your knees feel the breeze.
Spring boasts iconic harbingers: Capistrano has its swallows, Japan has its cherry blossoms. Here in Boston, we have guys in shorts at the gas pumps. The only problem is those guys are also out in force during a 35°F January thaw. It can be confusing for the casual onlooker. Sometimes warm weather is a state of mind.
For now, spring is a long way off. The start of astronomical winter, the winter solstice, is 9 days away while crystallized wonder falls outside my window in the first weeks of meteorological winter. The climate here couldn’t care less which weather calendar you use. Neither can I. On the shortest day with the longest night, my inner druid will wake and check her weather app. If the temperature is right, she’ll be on her way to her Yuletide celebration in shorts and flip-flops. But first she’ll stop and get some gas.
'Twas the night before Thanksgiving and I and the spouse looked forward to going to my brother's house. Christmas tunes on the radio seemed premature; not festive but vexing, a test to endure. We've not had our turkey, our cranberries, our dressing. The big box stores' ads with my mojo were messing. Were they here now our Pilgrim forebears would say: "Thou hast screwed mightily with our Thankful Feast Day!" Black Friday has rendered Thanksgiving a bump in the road to Christmas' lucrative jump. The quest for bargains and deals won't relent. I refuse to eat pumpkin pie in a tent at Best Buy, at Costco, at Target, at Lowes at Macy's, Old Navy, Wal-Mart, Bass Pro! The marketing folks think they've got us all pegged. We'll fork over the cash for which they have begged. But they'll learn, like the Grinch did that Christmas of yore, That holiday spirit isn't bought in a store. There'll be crowds on Friday lined up at the mall. As for me, I'll be home looking back on it all. From the turkey, that for us my brother did fry, to the last savory morsel of Mom's apple pie. And I ask for one thing, 'cause it only seems right: Just a few more days, please, 'til I hear "Silent Night"?
Sergeant then father
Globe and anchor to his kids
but there’s nothing there to see
hints of memories lost
Toccata and Fugue uploaded to doorbell ✔️
Viking helmets shined and ready ✔️
Bring on the Trick or Treaters!
Ah, late October! That time of year when everything tastes of pumpkin spice, every lawn is aglow with inflatable monsters, and every vacant building becomes a Spirit Halloween store. It’s also that time of year when one gives oneself a stern look in the mirror and asks, will I hand out full size or fun size candy bars on Halloween this year?
I’m going to tell you right up front that I’m team full size. I also think it’s necessary to confess that I don’t really like Halloween. I like Halloween candy. Actually, I just like candy. With the notable exception of candy corn. Like religion and politics, the merits, or lack thereof, of candy corn is a hotly debated topic, but not germane to the present theme. Let’s forget I even mentioned it and carry on. Wait a sec. You, in the back of the blog, I said we’re moving on, fer crying out loud.
Where was I? Oh, yes, the Origin Story…
Four score and more years than I care to mention ago, we lived down the street from a nice lady named Mrs. Arnold. I remember clinging to my father’s leg as he pushed me up her porch steps. She stood looking down at me in a long, flowing, black gown, and a tall black hat, her white hair glowing in the porchlight. Sweat borne of sheer terror poured out from under my Casper the Friendly Ghost mask. I thought for sure she was the sort of witch that eats children. Her pale hand extended from the darkness of her sleeve to reveal a Hershey bar as big as my forearm. Two things happened almost simultaneously: abject fear turned to ecstasy and I was officially hooked on Halloween candy. Mrs. Arnold may not have been a witch, but she created a monster.
Saccharine childhood memories aside, Halloween has its fair share of critics. The Full Size vs. Fun Size controversy leads the pack. A common argument against the big bars is that they’ll make the neighbors look bad. I’m not making this up. Apparently, there’s a chance that the neighbors will feel outdone. I prefer to think that no one’s ego is that fragile and that each household will do what it prefers. We’re all adults here and it’s all about the kids. We’re doing this for Johnny, man, not trying to keep up with the Joneses.
I submit to the fun-size-is-better camp that they’re doling out more packaging than confection. Fun size candy is a marketing scheme by Big Candy. It costs more per pound and you get less of it. The individual candy wrappers take up more space in the bag than the candy. In a bid to save the planet, many stores don’t give out plastic shopping bags anymore. But I can buy a plastic bag of landfill-clogging, fun-sized candy wrappers to put in the paper bag at the checkout. In this age of sustainability and eco-friendliness, full size bars are the more sustainable option. Don’t roll your eyes. I’m kidding. Kind of.
I’m really in this to give the kids as memorable an experience as I had all those years ago on Mrs. Arnold’s front porch. I set up the doorbell to play Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” with the speaker in the open window to maximize the effect. They love it. I’m pretty sure they expect to see Lon Chaney open the door. Well, if they knew who he was they would. What they actually get is the two of us in plastic Viking helmets. They like that, too. Then comes the ecstatic look on their faces as the basket of big bars appears around the door jamb. With that, another generation of sweet-toothed Halloween enthusiasts disappears into the night.
While the kids are the VIPs, we can’t forget about the shadowy figures lurking along the dark edges of the driveway: their parents. They, too, deserve a treat for schlepping about in the dark so that their offspring can test the fortitude of their collective pancreas with a pillowcase full of chocolate and cane sugar. When the kids are told to take another bar for mom and dad, the look on their little faces is pure gold. Every kid knows they have to pay the ferryman at the end of the night. And now it won’t come out of their stash.
While Halloween’s origins are as ancient as humanity itself, for me, it’s a modern social contract based on kindness. Sure, every year the big bars see to it that we get a few more kids than the year before. Word spreads. That’s a good thing. Living up to a child’s expectations is a privilege.
It’s only one night out of the entire year. A mere few hours really, from when the sun sets until the porch lights dim, when young minstrels and jokesters parade down the street to perform at each door in exchange for a treat. That’s why, when the organ music fades and my front door creaks open to expectant faces in greasepaint and frippery, full size candy bars shall be their wage. Therefore, I beseech thee, fun-size givers, reconsider thy fare for this cursed night, these costumed kids, these trick-or-treaters, this Halloween. Or you can ignore me Like Richard II ignored John of Gaunt and get egged. Trick or Treat!