Behind the names
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
“Alison, can you hand me the sunscreen from behind Niki’s bag?” Fred asks, correcting himself: “I mean Nancy’s.”
“Te-ed!” my mother calls. “Oh, um – Fred!”
In particular she makes the error when the two are on Fred’s boat, because boats were so much a part of the 30 years she was married to my father. And she mixes up names extra when my brother is around, because his name is Ted.
My mother, whose name is Nancy, was a widow of eight years, and Fred’s wife of decades had, after a long illness, succumbed to cancer a year before when friends invited the two to the same lunch. Fred’s wife had been Niki, and Mom’s husband, plus her son, and now a grandson, plus one of my cousins, are Teds; we are lousy with them. They began with my paternal grandfather.
Of course Mom and Fred are going to call each other the wrong names.
Which can be, at certain stages of life, a bad, insulting, dramatic thing. My old college roommate, whom we’ll call the Mata Hari, once dated three Gregs in a row, and said, “It’s really handy because I don’t have to remember a new name.”
But second marriages, and in a broader way, second chances are different, I think. The great thing about Mom and Fred is that he doesn’t care and she doesn’t care.
They met at 62 and 70, dated for a couple of years, and have now been happily married for 18 years (except for every election year, when they almost get divorced). She cared for him through many bouts of ill health. He has taken my mother to the hospital as well, protesting, as they entered the ER, “It’s not me this time. It’s her!”
My own now-nuclear family was all recently back in Annapolis for Thanksgiving, with Mike’s and my son Roy, while our older one, Teddy, and his friend Trev joined us from college in Vermont.
Now, add in these extra factors. Many years ago, when my brother left home for boarding school in 10th grade, he transitioned from a Teddy to a Ted. We sisters and mother were slow on the uptake about that, still calling him Teddy all his life. He was resigned, tolerant.
I finally stopped it, though, when I had my own little Teddy, named to honor our deceased father. I kept the two people straight by uniformly calling my brother Ted, and small son Teddy, and when my mother on the phone gave me news of “Teddy,” I was often confused.
Now my Teddy has become Ted. He liked the old name fine, and it’s what he’s known as around here, and what was announced over the loudspeaker when he played football, or crossed a finish line on skis or a bike, but he doesn’t really want to graduate college as Teddy, so now, as a freshman, was the time to introduce himself as Ted.
Having the two Teds-aka-Teddies in the house at once must have done a number on my mother, because she even began calling my stepfather Freddy. I have never in my life heard my stepfather, a retired Navy pilot, called Freddy; but she shouted it through rooms or up stairways. He is hard of hearing, though, and I doubt he noticed.
My mother also has a friend named Nancy who was once married to a Bob, and who then married another Bob, who himself was once married to a Nancy.
“Easy for them!” she says.
My friend Karen has always been amused at my tale of how Mom and Fred continually, amiably call each other the wrong names, and for her the image became a totem. It seemed an affirmation, somehow, and later, as she faced a divorce, encouragement.
A person can find happiness at any stage, perhaps an entirely different kind of life and companionship; a second act freer from roiling turbulence, and offering new kinds of grace.
– “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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