Dates, Names, and Ponytails
I am from a large family. There was always conversation at our house. Some fussing and fighting. Some bawling and peacemaking. Lots of laughter and singing. No matter the genre, it was LOUD! At nights, however, the voices of my parents and older siblings would lull me to sleep as the conversation floated from the living room, down the hall, and into my bedroom. I couldn’t always make out the exact words, but I found comfort in knowing that my parents were just a room away and that they were still awake. My eyes would slowly drift downward and then pop open again when a loud laugh or the scooting of a chair leg broke through the lull barrier. Eventually, I would find that it was morning and I had fallen asleep to the slow comfort of their soft Texas drawl.
One of the things that I remember most about the family conversations was the canny ability of both the old folks and the really old folks to remember dates. “Back in ’58, or was it ’59 daddy…?” My grandparents were even further behind. “…that was in the spring of ‘32” was a reference to 1932. Before time began. Dates swirled around with the cups of coffee and the clicks of the dominoes. I never understood how my parents and grandparents could sit for hours sipping hot coffee and discussing events that happened on specific dates.
While dates were an integral piece of family conversations, it always amazed me that my own parents could not recall our names. They knew exactly when daddy came home from the Navy and what mother wore on their first date as well as the awful details of December 7, 1941. They remembered how difficult it was to grow up in the great depression and how much gas cost when they got married in 1948, but they could not remember what they named their sixth child.
Con…Cat…Ch…Cat…Meow…whatever. Many times I knew that my mother was calling me but until she got it right, I didn’t feel obligated to answer. At least at first. With the help of my older sisters, I quickly got smarter.
One summer day, back in ’69, my mother decided to comb out my hair and was trying to call me to the kitchen. She couldn’t spit out our names out correctly. “Ca…Conn..Ch…Faw…Con…” The harder she tried, the worse it got. “Mi…Con…Che…Cher…Fa…Jo…Cat…” She added in our brothers. She was flustered and we all ended up in the kitchen at the same time.
I didn’t want any part of her working on my hair. I had long, thick, curly hair and it hurt when she combed it out. I kept pulling away from her and screeching loudly so that my sisters would come to my rescue. They were milling about, waiting to see what might transpire, and thankful I was the one mother was calling.
No matter how I pulled away, mother had me by my ponytail and I couldn’t get loose. Mother was determined to talk to me while she combed. I ignored her. She kept talking and I kept ignoring so she started on the roll call to get my attention. “Ca…Co…Jo..Cath…Che…BE STILL,” and she gave a little yank to the hair gathered up in her hand.
My older sisters began to chant.
“Kick her, Fawn! Kick her!”
It is astonishing how quickly we can lose all the good sense God gave us. I twisted around the ponytail and kicked my mother. There were roars of approval from across the room. I was encouraged. I was puffed up with bravado and kicked her again.
I count it a miracle I survived to share the story with my own children.
Now, as we sit around the table at family gatherings, we share the stories of our youth, and throw in a date or two for validation. We laugh and reminisce about the difficulties of growing up “way back when,” and then we all sheepishly admit that the biggest obstacle to good parenting might be calling the right kid the right name on the first try.
Hey, Bam…Re…Ker…Cor…Hay…Thom…Mi…Magg…Aus…Le…WHOEVER YOU ARE!