When I was a little girl I thought my grandmother had the ugliest ears I had ever seen. They were about five inches long (what large ears you have, Grandmother!) and she wore her hair pulled up to a little bun on top of her head, so they were totally exposed. Well, one day a few years ago, I was sitting in a chair at my hairdresser's shop with my hair in rollers and I happened to glance in the mirror and I was hit by a revelation.... "Oh, my GAWD! I have my grandmother's ears!" It is probably my own fault. If I had not been such a thoughtless little prig, I might have inherited her sweetness and patience instead of her ears.
Several of the childhood friends of my girls have mentioned that they feel strange addressing me as Jeannie, which I requested them to do, instead of Mrs. Hagberg. I did not like this trend when it first started back in the 70's and I resisted it for a long time. But when I realized that the nurse in the doctor's office, and the butcher at Walnut Creek Meats, and the handyman, and the six-year-old across the street were all calling me Jeannie, I gave up. It was hopeless, anyway. Everybody is on a first-name basis now. We refer to our Presidents by their first names. We call our doctors by their first names. My kids called their high school teachers by their first names, which just about did in their father. He was raised in a culture where small girls curtsied and small boys bowed on being introduced to adults, and where the class (including college students) stood up when a teacher entered the room. I must say that as I grow older, I really feel more comfortable with Jeannie than with Mrs. Hagberg. (Second childhood, maybe?) That is who I am after all. I remember when Lisa's Jack was small, he started calling her Lisa instead of Mommy. When she asked him why, he said, "Well, Lisa is your name!" We need some formality and respect for position and, yes, age in our society. Common courtesy and recognition of accomplishments and status are important in a civilized world. But for me, I am happy to be called, by young and old, the name handed down to me from my little Aunt Jeannie.
In my Scottish family, the names were limited. This necessitated qualifiers: There was Aunt Jeannie and Little Jeannie and when I came along I was Wee Jeannie. There was Uncle Bob and Young Bob and Bobs. My grandfather, the patriarch, was Walter. Then there was his son, Uncle Walter, and his son, Walter, Jr. and his son Walter lll. There were a couple of Cousin Walters, as well. This could get confusing and once I had an extended phone conversation with Cousin Walter and found out near the end that I was talking to a different Cousin Walter. My father was John and my brother was John. One of my uncles was David and his son was David. (My son is David, too, but since all those older Davids have passed away, it is no longer a problem.) And so on. There was a Tom or two and a Gavin, and among the females, Marys and Graces and Isabelles, but that was pretty much it. The younger generations have branched out from these sturdy old names and a good thing, I think. But there is something to be said for the continuity and tradition encompassed in four or five generations of Walters.