What's Not to Laugh?

Almost everything about aging–except grave illness and death–can be funny as well as disturbing. I try to find the funny and help us all get through it!

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

What’s in a (last) name?

Sometimes people ask me why I kept my first husband’s name when I married the second time. There were a number of reasons, some logical, some not, and one that was emotional, if not illogical.

Still feeling guilty about divorcing, I wanted desperately to keep a connection to my grown daughters. So I (illogically) thought sharing a last name would be one way to do that. It was illogical because, before long, they both married and took their husbands’ names. This was before Facebook, where many women—my daughters too—include their maiden names in their profiles. Thus, there’s a connection again.

Another reason I kept the name was purely personal, and some might say prejudicial. My maiden name was Wolfson, and I had it until I married for the first time in 1963. Wolfson is one of those names that doesn’t suggest ethnicity…unless you know someone by that name. I learned much later in life that Wolfson wasn’t always the family name. The story that surfaced at a cousins’ club meeting was that the name was originally (when?) Melamed. Melamed to Wolfson? The sketchy story continues that an early immigrant to America, who was—allegedly—the son of someone named Wolf—changed the name.

My father embraced the story. My mother was skeptical. She’d known my father since the mid-1930s and, since she was motherless at the time, she became a very solid member of the Wolfson family. “How come I never heard this story?” was her mantra. I was curious about it, but by that time I was solidly a Feingold, so it was just an interesting anecdote. But Wolfson is what we went by, and it was a good name for me, except that I always sat near the end of the last row in alphabetically arranged classrooms. Even all the W names came before mine: Weinberg, Weinstein, Weissman…

In 1963, when I became a Feingold, I was aware that I now had a more obviously ethnic (Jewish) name. This was not a problem in the 60s in the U.S. But still, I knew that some people would make assumptions about me just by my last name. I was concerned about it before a trip to Malaysia after reading that a traveler could have a problem if she had an Israeli stamp on her passport. I’d never been to Israel, but I was a Jew with a Jewish last name. Could that be a problem too? (It wasn’t.)

Then came divorce and, later, remarriage. This time I was marrying a Thompson. I could shed my very Jewish last name for…a very white bread Waspy name like Thompson. I thought about this for a while and had this feeling of discomfort and guilt (there’s that word again) about “hiding” my ethnicity behind such an obviously non-Jewish name. Besides, there were no-relation Thompsons everywhere! I would be one of a very large crowd.

So I remained a Feingold. And the official reason I give for this choice may be the strongest reason: Think of all the name-changing bureaucracy one has to go through when one wants to change one’s name at 53! By that age, you have credit cards, bank accounts, health insurance, possibly a will, maybe even a library card. You have to notify Social Security. You need to make sure your HR department at work changes your records. And if you work with repeat customers and sponsors, you have to include your old name with the new one so they know you’re still who you used to be. So, like many things I consider doing and reject these days, I declared that it was “too much trouble.”

If my wonderful husband had not been comfortable with my decision, I would have overcome my guilt, laziness, and tendency to overthink and made the change.  He was just happy we got married. Me too.

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I have a “prob” with some words

Earlier, I wrote about words that make us sound old. I had also written a while ago about my difficulty with letting go of my “proper” words and shortening them, as the younger generations like to do now—especially with texting and tweeting making it necessary to be concise. My thoughts then were that expressions like “meds,” “doc,” and “no prob” were grating and lazy, and I would find myself deliberately using the full words. But, as I’ve learned, you either join them or get further and further removed from popular culture. I still have issues with some of the younger language, but I recently found myself saying meds for medicine. I’ve crossed over. Or I’ve gotten lazy, and saying three syllables when one will get the meaning across means that much more time for napping.

But I’m still a holdout on some word usage. Do you want to know what really bothers this English major? It’s the use of the word “fun” as an adjective. We have always said, “You’ll have fun at the party” or “Wasn’t that fun?” But never do I remember saying “They had a fun time” or “She’s a fun person.” Although I (wisely) keep my mouth shut whenever I hear “fun” used that way, I have the fingernails-on-the-blackboard reaction.

Tangent alert: Did “fingernails on the blackboard” make me sound old? Using expressions like that and “you sound like a broken record” seem to pop out of our aging mouths without much thought. But if you find a much younger person looking at you as if you’ve just said a bunch of words that don’t belong together in one sentence, you may be conversing with someone who was born in the era of CDs. Or worse. They may know only MP3 files.  And are there still blackboards or are they all white boards now?

I finally began dropping the word phone in cell phone and refer to it only as cell: “Did I give you my cell number?” I can just picture a 90-something overhearing this and thinking we just broke out of the county jail.

As much as I fight the urge to shorten common words and phrases, I know firsthand how useful that can be. When typing on the iPad or a smart phone, the less you have to type the better. With my iPad (first generation, now hopelessly outdated), for every sentence I type, half of the words have typos that I need to go back and correct. The onscreen keyboard is so sensitive, except when it’s not sensitive at all. So if I’m going for an “a” I might get a “q” because my finger hovered a little too far above the “a.” At other times, hitting the space bar does nothing, and I have a string of four words with no spaces. So you’d think I’d jump at the chance to type shorter words and therefore make fewer typos. But it’s hard for me to change my way of forming words. I was never one to use a lot of slang, and I look upon these compact expressions as such.

Just yesterday, I was reading brief restaurant reviews in the daily newspaper—taken from Chicago Magazine’s latest Hot List. The reviewer said that the restaurateur opened his bistro because he was tired of all the “Asian, Mexican, and  ‘za” out there. Za? Does he mean pizza? Is pizza such a long and difficult word to pronounce that one must shorten it to za?

I admit that, like most of us, I’ve been using shortened words for most of my adult life. Checking an online list of shortended words and expressions, I find many I use all the time: intro, info, abs, limo, rehab, Q and A.  But on that same list, I see mo for moment (that’s pretty lazy), vac for vacation (it could also be vacuum cleaner; there’s a miscommunication waiting to happen. “Did you have a good time on your vac?” may have a more salacious meaning), and uni for university (why not for unicorn?).

We have to decide for ourselves if we’re going to use these shortcuts or not. We have to find medium ground between sounding like we’re trying too hard to be hip and sounding like we’ve given up. My suggestion is to use the words that make you the most comfortable, but learn the meanings of the ones your kids’ kids are using. Or risk missing the dire pronouncement, “Time to put G in the H” (future-speak for determining that Grandma or Grandpa needs to be in a facility).

For my mother

The following is republished from a post on my old blog, Suddenly Sixties, written for Mother’s Day 2010. I think it’s worth repeating. My mother passed away in April of 2005. We loved each other, but there was lots of bickering too. It seems crazy now, the silly things we fought over. But those of you who had mothers who knew how to push your buttons and get out-of-proportion reactions will understand. After she died, I had a hard time remembering the fighting or resentment. I did, however, remember some funny things and felt I owed an apology for others. Thus, this post:

Things I wish I could tell my mother (originally published April 26, 2010)

I now understand why, every time you were hospitalized, the first thing you said to me was “Bring me my tweezers and a magnifying mirror.” At my age now, I don’t think I’d want to be too far from those items for any length of time. Those wayward hairs seem to crop up out of nowhere.

Banded bottoms are back! I apologize for rolling my eyes while you wandered up and down the aisles of TJ Maxx or Carson’s complaining that nobody made tops with banded bottoms anymore. “That’s old,” I said. “Nobody wears those styles anymore.” Lo and behold: I can’t browse a clothing rack now without seeing those (I still think) unsightly banded bottoms. Sorry, Mom. But you must have known that everything comes around again…eventually.

I wish I’d listened more carefully to your stories of your childhood, my early childhood, and other memories. I have hundreds of questions I’d love to have answers to, and I can’t think of anyone else who would know.

I have a little more empathy now about your insisting on describing every symptom you had, even those that should remain in the bathroom… When I complained, you said “Daddy’s gone. I have no one else to tell these things to.” Now that I’m five years older since you passed away, I understand these concerns a little better (but I still wouldn’t describe them to my daughters).

I still have all the quarters you were saving for your mah jongg, poker, and Kaluki games. Someday I’ll spend them or take them to a bank, but right now they’re part of a shrine that includes many of your other collections I can’t yet part with.

You didn’t live to see the Great Recession of 2008-2009, and I’m grateful for that. Seeing your stock purchases—with which you were much more astute than I’ll ever be—nosedive would have made you crazy with anger. But now that I’ve experienced my own loss and worry over finances, I not only recognize your Depression-era frugality, as I always have, I can almost feel it. I apologize for laughing when you saved Styrofoam produce trays and every tie band that entered the house.

My anger and resentment evaporated in those last terrible days you were in intensive care, and they haven’t ever come back. Before that, I had an arsenal ready to bring out at the slightest push (yours) of any of a number of buttons (mine). My frequent internal arguments with you in anticipation of your disapproval of something I hadn’t told you yet disappeared. I’m sorry I didn’t develop the confidence to deal with you on an adult level when you were here. But I am confident you knew I loved you.

I have my hair highlighted with some pretty light streaks—almost blond in a few places. You nagged me to do this for years, but I always told you I hated that very-light-on-dark look. I am eating those words, and they don’t taste so bad. I get compliments on my hair color, so I hereby state, much too late: You were right, Mom. About a lot of things.

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

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