I’ve written several times about my childhood and worldview from the standpoint of a preschooler. I’ve found that while each of us evolves and learns new things, certain traits are part of us from the start and stay with us regardless of prayer, counseling and various attempted therapies.
Take my inability to remember names unless a unique impression has been made. When I met my friend Bela, her wild mane of curly hair was gathered on top of her head, and she was wearing an elegant white frock on that July afternoon. She had a unique smile and announced she was leaving for Portugal the next day, and we would not meet again for a month. I never forgot her name or our conversation.
Then there’s the poor woman who is the sister-in-law of a close friend. While I could recognize her husband from a mile away and her infant daughter when a lot of babies look alike to me, this poor woman would stop me in the grocery store, see me at the gas station, wave to me across a parking lot, and I’d wonder who the heck was this very forward woman who seemed to know an awful lot about me. She once dropped my friend off for a meeting, and by the time she’d gotten her car on the street and honked goodbye, I’d forgotten all about her.
“Who in the world was that?!?”
My friend said, “That’s Liz. Who’d you think it was?” No one apparently. If the woman had stood before me in a police lineup, I’d swear to never having seen her before in my entire life.
With the exception of Liz, whom I cannot picture in my mind to this day, I’m actually pretty good with faces. I remember them; I just can’t remember what names to match. When I worked for a large department store chain in the early 90s, I was transferred to a new location. I was doing the same job, the store was laid out similarly, but the sensation was like partial amnesia when all the faces behind the counters in all of the departments were suddenly unfamiliar. There were three of us in our department who had arrived at roughly the same time, and it was difficult for us to quickly learn 100 new names. In the office, we had to use nicknames to identify the people we were talking about.
The woman in housewares who never stopped talking even when she thought no one was around was called Jabberwocky. The woman at the makeup counter with the shocking red hair was obviously Lucy, and the cantankerous bleached blond on the loading dock was Doris because one of my co-workers mentioned that she looked like a Doris Day, which time had forgotten. She actually looked more like a hung-over Rose Marie without the bow, but Doris Day was a broader cultural reference.
Lest anyone think the nicknames were limited to women, the men got their share even though there were fewer male employees. There was Jimmy Swagger for the guy who boldly spoke of Jesus even though few people heard his foul language behind the scenes. And there was Slick, a not-so-clever name for the young man at the jewelry counter who came to work each day with his heavily jelled hair arranged in some new and unusual way.
Eventually, I learned everyone’s real name, but the learning and retention of names remains a big problem. I’m not planning to do anything about it since the affliction has been with me since I could talk. Yes, we’re all born savages and require discipline or else we’d be grabbing food off everyone else’s plates, but I don’t do that (much), and I’m working on so many other things I have to let this one go.
The first recollection of this unfortunate trait had to do with Miss Pinchy. Her name was actually Mrs. Schultz, and she ran the little grocery near my sister’s middle school. A few afternoons each week, I’d stand groggily on the front seat of the car as we headed across town to get Karen. Yes, younger readers, I stood on the front seat without any sort of restraint. I lived to tell the tale even though I got a few knots on my head. The reality of head injuries was not enough to make me sit down; I was more worried about scorching my legs on the vinyl than going through the windshield. If my concern weren’t about burning my legs it was having them pinched by that Schultz woman who would come out of the store to see “the baby” whenever we drove up.
Mrs. Schultz must’ve loved children or perhaps she loved hurting them because she always gave my legs an irritating pinch. I was never prepared for the encounters, as I’d still be waking up when she’d rush toward our car. My defenses were weak and my reaction time was slower than a drunk driver’s.
While everyone thought it was cute that I called her Miss Pinchy, I have to admit this moniker came about as combination of my poor name recollection and general annoyance even though Miss Pinchy was actually a very kind lady. Everyone thought the nickname was cute, and Miss Pinchy let out a hearty laugh when she was eventually informed. I was so embarrassed when she found out that I abruptly switched to her real name. She also stopped pinching me.
Whether anyone thought I’d grow out of my laziness with name recognition, I don’t know. On the first day of first grade, I was entranced with the amazing bread they served in the cafeteria. It was made daily by the head cook, and though she’d worked hours preparing our meals from scratch, she made it look effortless as she stood at the serving window and popped a hot bun on our plates. When I got home, I was asked about my day. What was my favorite thing? The bun lady! And, of course, she was known by that name for months.
© 2015 by Patrick Brown
Visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1 to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”