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May 16, 2012 | Comments Off on The First Angel, by any Other Name | Betsy Woodman
“Do you people have nicknames for everything?” a friend once asked.
It seemed that way. My dad was linguistically very inventive, and his peculiar usages entered the family vocabulary. If he asked whether you’d like a mucket, he was offering you a beer. But, just in case you think his lingo was logical, a mucket was also a hat.
“Pop those potatoes in the rototiller” meant stick them in the microwave oven. “Let’s hear a tune on the swinette” was a request for some recorder music, never mind the difference between stringed and wind instruments.
A “pelican” meant a dollar. I always assumed that was his invention, but after googling “pelican dollar,” I saw offered on eBay a 1812 dollar bill from Louisiana, “the pelican state.” There is indeed a picture of the bird on it. Aha! Now I remember that my dad had a small collection of obscure bank notes, so maybe that’s where that particular term came from. Alas, it’s too late to confirm that theory with him. Too late do we think of these funny little questions.
He also had nicknames for lots of people. For the six decades of their married life, he called my mom “Poochie.” Foreign friends, as well as Americans, loved that. In Chennai, my mom became known to our neighbors as “Poochie-akka,” akka (“older sister” in Tamil) being a term of endearment.
He had a variety of names for us children, too. Some were short-lived, such as “Gubbins” for my sister Deborah, which tended to degenerate into an inelegant “Gub.”
My sister Jane received a number of nicknames, and one particularly sweet one deserves to endure. Here she is at age four in a Christmas pageant, looking a little worried, for apparently there was a live donkey behind her that attempted to nibble at her shoulder. Decades later, when Jane would arrive at a family gathering, my dad would sometimes say, “Hey! Here comes the First Angel!”
“And Jane,” he would repeat, savoring the memory, “was the First Angel.”