Friday, April 3, 2020

What’s in a name?

Rose Lazarus – my Mom. Submitted photo

Rose Lazarus – my Mom. Submitted photo

There was no Buffy in my family; no Lindsay; no Kirk; no Graham. I had a nephew Jonathan, but he was a beagle; a niece Penelope, but she was a spaniel; and my own daughter Brandy, but she was (primarily) spaniel. They don’t count. We two-legged creatures all had basic twentieth century names. In those days there was apparently some limit on imagination, and the name list was pretty short…at least in New York City. I never ran across a Tex or a Scarlett in the Bronx, although we did have a Big Al and a Fat Al. There were also rumors of a “Fleur de Lis Horowitz.”

Early on I realized that there were a lot of women in my family named Rose. My mother was one. There was a “Sister Rose” – nope, not a nun – my dad’s sister. Then followed  “Rose J,” “Cousin Rose,” “Rose M,” and on and on. There were probably more Roses in my family than there are in Portland, Oregon’s spectacular Rose Garden.

My big brother and I had rather prosaic names, but that’s where things got confused. It seems that my mother either: (a) forgot our respective names, (b) thought it was humorous to omit our given names, (c) decided not to favor one name or the other, or (d) all or none of the above. In any event, we became, generically: “THIS ONE AND THE OTHER ONE.” Thus we were labeled, not only within the family, but also with total, and confused, strangers. If you doubt me, I can provide a list of credible witnesses, including my sainted bro who is alive and well in sunny Las Vegas. He’s well because he lives high in the hills and rarely descends to the Strip. Incidentally, I’ve strayed from Mom’s short list, and often call my brother “Mycroft,” after Sherlock Holmes’ older, smarter brother. Mycroft often gave Sherlock great advice and spent most of his time at a London Club. Apparently, he even owned an estate somewhere. Although my brother gave me invaluable advice and support, sadly, there’s no posh club, and certainly no estate.

When our mom, who lived until 97 ½, was only about 85, Mycroft and I headed east to see her. She was downstairs so we met her there (and she seemed to know us!). Up we shot in the elevator to the 14th floor (luckily she did not recognize that she really lived on 13, but the crafty owner left out 13, as the Japanese often shun number four). In the hallway, Mom paused to chat with two neighbors. My bro, a man of manners, suggested that Mom introduce us. Without a flicker, Mom said: “Oh, yes. These are my sons – THIS ONE AND THE OTHER ONE.”

Now comes the icing…we were interchangeable! Whoever was in closest proximity automatically qualified as “THIS ONE.” The other one, logically and officially, became “THE OTHER ONE.”

A lot of very elderly folks in North Miami Beach probably thought they didn’t hear our names or that our family was very odd. For those of you still around, you heard correctly and, yes, we’re odd. Recently my brother began signing his emails and other stuff “TOOTOO,” standing for “THIS ONE OR THE OTHER ONE.” Makes sense to me. Unfortunately, I’m now going through a traumatic identity crisis, and can’t figure out which one I am.

My dad, a deservedly well-beloved man, was not only erudite beyond his formal education, but he also had a wonderful sense of humor. On names, he took great joy when people (who apparently never heard of the Bible) asked him: “What kind of name is Lazarus?” Invariably he answered, “French,” and smiled quietly.

Once, as a very young teenager (actually I’ve never met an old teenager), I was filling out some form or other and I asked Dad what to enter for his profession. He looked up from the evening paper, quickly said, “M.D.” and went back to the paper. Puzzled, since Dad was a butcher, I asked “M.D?” “Yep. Meat Dispenser.” I wrote down “M.D.” Let them figure it out.

One other matter, and a warning: My wife is from New Jersey, and her maiden name was Bonney. As students of the Wild West know, Billy the Kid was reputedly originally from New Jersey and his real name was William Bonney. Forewarned is forearmed.

Mom, I’m sure (well, pretty sure) that you are up there and you’ll be reading this. Please stop calling St. Peter and God “THIS ONE AND THE OTHER ONE.” Interchangeably.

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