Published in the Rains County Leader on September 12, 2017:
David and I recently went to a church pot luck at my brother Jim’s church in Conway, AR. As siblings tend to do, especially older siblings, our conversation turned to memories of our shared childhoods. I can’t remember the thread that led to the subject of nicknames, but at some point I mentioned that, if Jim had been in charge, my name would have been Judy instead of Linda.
Jim was four years old when Mom was pregnant with me. Wanting to make him feel a part of the process, she and Dad asked him what he thought my name should be. He doesn’t remember where he had heard the name – maybe a cute little girl in his Sunday School class or someone he met at the park – but he immediately suggested that I be named Judy. I think they had already made their choice, but they played along anyway, asking what he thought my middle name should be.
“Cobweb,” he said.
Thankfully, they didn’t take his suggestion. I don’t know if this exchange happened in the presence of my Uncle Leonard, or if he heard the story at the next family reunion, but to the day he died, he called me Judy or Judy Cobweb.
Of course, Jim’s and my reminiscences were shared with the others at our table, and most of them laughed, but one lady was sympathetic. That only encouraged me to enlarge on the story, and I went on to tell how I was given another nickname.
Mom took a job outside the home when I was in second grade. One morning I woke up with a sore throat and a fever. Not wanting to miss work, Mom asked her sister Fay if I could stay with her for the day. Aunt Fay had three children in school and two more at home, so one more didn’t make much difference, even if she was sick. After a day or two of chicken soup and cheese toast, I broke out in a rash, and the consensus was that I had the measles. Uncle Dean disagreed.
“That’s not measles,” he declared. “That’s just the meanness breaking out all over you!”
Like Uncle Leonard, he continued to call me “Meanness” off and on for the rest of his life. My new sympathetic friend at the pot luck shook her head in disbelief. “That’s rough,” she said. “Tough uncles!”
I laughed, and the conversation veered to something else, but I continued to think about Uncle Leonard and Uncle Dean the rest of the day. I never felt abused by their nicknames. Their smiles let me know they were teasing me, and even though that side of the family wasn’t very demonstrative, I felt loved when they used my special names.
Some people become upset if you mispronounce or misspell their names or, even worse, if you call them by the wrong name. I’m pretty casual about my name, an attitude I probably picked up from Dad. “It doesn’t matter what you call me,” he would say with a grin, “just as long as you call me in time for dinner.”