Like all of our dogs, past and present, Lucy was tagged with many nicknames. Over the last few weeks I feel like I’ve been stripped of the most familiar language — the happy words — that made up my days. I catch myself wanting to call out to her in higher octaves, “Where’s my Lou Lou?!” or “Here Oozy Loozy, come see Mama!” or “Three Legs Tree Legs” or simply, “Ooza!” My heart breaks a little every time I have to stop myself.
I grew up in a place where people had nicknames. Gary was called Butch, and his son Gary Jr. was called Butchie. Aunt Vickie was Sis. We called Jerry, Bub. My grandfather’s name was Arnold Charles, but everyone called him Red. I remember feeling jealous that I was just plain old Teri. I wanted a nickname. No, I desperately wanted a nickname. A nickname would, of course, make me more one of them.
It wasn’t until I started school that I discovered nicknames could hurt. My brothers started calling my stepsister Tubs. A boy on the bus peed his pants one day and was forever after labeled Squish. In high school we had Bird, so-called because he had frizzy hair and the Jocks started out calling him Burr Head, which morphed into Bird. There was the girl everybody called Fish, who sat by herself in the cafeteria every single day. Needless to say, I got over my urge to be called something I wasn’t, lest I be forever tagged with a word that hurt.
I mostly call Lea the Lab, Magoo. As in, Mr. Magoo. Her face, this word, and it’s cartoon image always plaster me with a smile. This morning, however, when it was time to take Magoo for her walk, I caught myself wanting to call out, “Come on you guys! Where are my Pumpkin Heads?!” only to remember I’ve been robbed of the plural.
Did you grow up with a nickname, or the fear of having one? What words might you be missing these days?