Friday, May 4, 2012

Call It By Its Name

Small wonder I have trouble calling things by their right name. The definitions keep changing. There’s no consistency. And I’m having difficulty keeping up. When my children were teenagers, they spoke a foreign language that I never caught on to. And now their children and their children’s children speak in tongues that are foreign to me. Will I ever catch up?
I took a bus to the library the other day. (I always feel virtuous when I do that.) As I caught the bus to go home, the driver said to sit way up in the front. “School’s out,” he said. And sure enough, at the next stop, the high school kids boarded, in fact, filled the bus. They were adorable. I doubt they’d appreciate my calling them that, for they were all so grown-up and sophisticated, phones clutched in their hands, ears filed with little earplugs, laughing and chattering away in a language that I couldn’t follow.
I remember when grandson Alec was just two. We had driven to visit my parents, Alec’s great grandparents. He danced for them and sang, “I’m bad, I’m bad.” My mother turned to me and said, “Oh, he’s not bad. He’s sweet.” Laura (Alec’s mom) had to translate.
            It’s always been like that for me. I always have to play catchup. When we lived in Atlanta, my children played in a little stream in the nearby woods. They called it White Pebble Creek. My neighbor called it a crick. When we were transferred to New York, we chose to live in a lovely village in northern New Jersey (called by the Dutch Tenafly). A lovely stream cut through our lot, no longer a creek, or even a crick. Here it was a brook. And then in Mount Lebanon, a suburb of Pittsburgh, in the woods at the back of our lot it wasn’t a creek, a crick, or even a brook. Now it was a run. As I said, there’s no consistency.
            And then there’s the matter of technology. In the early 1950s, my husband brought home our first stereo. It took all of a Saturday to install it, to find exactly the right place for the speakers and for all of us to don a headset and listen to the demo tape. The children were fascinated, their little heads turned from side to side as they listened to a train coming and going.
            “What a wonderful invention,” I cried, as we listened to Poulenc’s Concerto Pour Orgue. The rich sounds filled the house and made me tingle with joy. “How does it do it?”
            My husband patiently took me to the large speaker. “Simple. This is the tweeter and that’s the woofer.”
            I threw my arms about his neck and cooed, “And him’s the sweetest wovewy smart hubby.” So much for technology.
            And lets not even get started with the computer age. Who gets to decide how they name things? Certainly not anyone in my generation. (Although I must confess I love the names these young entrepreneurs come up with. Miso. Fluid. Aglocal. Georgia Chopsticks. So creative.)
            While we lived in Tenafly, our friend “Colie” invited us to his mother’s cottage in the Pocono Mountains for the weekend. There would be four couples. We were delighted. I made arrangements for the baby sitter, packed our bags and we piled into the car. Dick handed me a long piece of paper covered with hand-printed directions. He would drive. I would navigate.
            The instructions were precise. The highway part was easy. And then the instructions said, “TURN RIGHT ON MACADAM ROAD.” I began to look for street signs.
Dick drove the car onto a two-lane tarred road.
“Wait,” I cried. “There’s no street sign. Are you sure this is it?”
Dick nodded. “It’s the only tarred road. They used to call them macadam…”
“Tar!” I interrupted. “Why didn’t he say so?”
            “We’re now in Pennsylvania,” Dick said. “They talk different here.”
            Indeed they did. The instructions continued. “CHEVIE STATION TO RIGHT. 1/4th MILE OLD BARN ON LEFT.”
            “Isn’t this just like a corporate lawyer,” I said. “Every dot and title covered. And here it says GOUNDERSTONE BRIDGE. What on earth is a gounderstone?”
            Dick shrugged. I sputtered and complained. The road turned ahead in a broad sweeping curve and there ahead of us was the stone bridge. We drove under it. “Looks like ordinary stone to me,” I said.
“Maybe it’s native to this part of the country.”
We soon arrived at the cottage. Now I’ve seen cottages, lots of them. They’re small little ramshackle buildings that have been in the family for years, where all the furniture they no longer want ends up, and none of the dishes match. This was no cottage. It was a huge home, had two dishwashers, a walk-in refrigerator, and gleaming bathrooms everywhere. Another new definition for me.
            We all gathered around the large dining room table for dinner. “By the way,” I said. “Where do the grounderstones come from?”
            Colie laughed. “Gounderstones? Where’s you get that?”
I got out the directions and showed him. “See,” I pointed. “GOUNDERSTONE BRIDGE.”
            Carefully, he pointed out his words. “GO UNDER STONE BRIDGE.”
            It was a great joke. Colie must have told everybody for an article appeared in the little local paper telling about the “city lady’s” error. They actually began to call it the Gounderstone Bridge. So much for being the butt of the joke.
When we were transferred from the San Francisco area to Los Angeles, we began another round of house hunting. The street names were lovely. El Sereno, Santa Anita, Hermocita.  All those beautiful Spanish names.  Suddenly we passed a sign:  LA ZOO.
            “La Zoo!” I said. “You’d think they’d call it El Zoo.”
            “Darling,” my husband replied patiently.  “That’s L.A. Zoo.”
            So much for foreign languages.


  1. Brilliant! Made me laugh more than once. Let's meet at that library again some day.

  2. Oh my gosh, Ruth. This it too funny! It also has a poignant, bittersweet edge. Thanks for the smiles.