Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Cigarette lady

I have a question for all of you. What is with the worlds obsession with giving everything and everyone some form of nickname? Seems I have been assaulted by the phenomenon recently. For some reason I always assumed this was just an American quirk, but then several articles crossed my path about such unlikely subjects as the African National Soccer Team and their nicknames, followed by one that puts the Aussie’s in first place for assigning nicknames to everything to a trivia quiz on the nicknames of US presidents.

It seems every one of us has had at least one nickname we love, and at least half a dozen we hated in our life time, and now that we are all so entrenched in the use of the internet we get to make up our own. Apparently nicknames have been in use since written history began, and as far back as oral history reaches.

Almost every President has been given some form of nickname by the press or his fellow politicians. Do you know which president was called the “Illinois Baboon”, “Sphinx” or “His Fraudulency?” Nicknames are a colorful part of baseball history and most other sports as well, with both the teams and the players being fair game. Every state in the Union has a nickname as does almost every city, town or hamlet in the country. Debates have raged for years in some statehouses over just the right nickname for their state.

Even our President gave nicknames to the members of his cabinet, during his first term in office. I’ve been told that if you put any group of men together on a regular basis for any reason including being in the military or just going on a hunting trip, they will often start using nicknames for each other. And I do not know which is worse; the nicknames that men give to their private parts or the ones their wives use behind their back. Acorn Randy and Dead Fred are just two of the ones that women friends of mine have used to describe their husbands member. So, it seems nicknames, both affectionate and insulting are a part of the fabric of American life.

I am no stranger to nicknames and not all of them were meant to be flattering or affectionate. Growing up I was a chubby, short, glasses-wearing, opinionated, overly responsible eldest of 13; so I heard most of the insulting nicknames. Besides being from a large family, I have a mother from the Deep South, so I am no stranger to folks being called by family, pet or nicknames. There is more than one Bubba, Cricket, Junior or Billy Bob in my family tree. I can remember my mother adamantly saying she chose names for her children that could not be shortened or altered. She did not succeed because most of her sons have chosen to go by the shortened forms of their names. They may be William, Robert, David, Andrew, Jeffery, and Peter to my mother; but they are Bill, Bob, Dave, Andy, Jeff and Pete to the rest of the world.

My first husband was always known as Tim and it was not until we were standing in the registrar’s office applying for our marriage license that I learned his given name was actually Melvin. I also admit to still calling my 11 year old grandson, who is taller than I, Munchkin. His mother was called Bear by her father until the day he died.

Do you have any nicknames you are unaware of? Are you sure? Well, don’t be so positive you know that answer. Why, you ask? There are nicknames we pick up in life we are unaware of. Names others give us based on our habits, personality or even the way we dress. Names we would work to expunge if we knew they existed. Let me tell you about a few of the people I have known. But, first check out what Wikipedia has to say about nicknames.

Over the years, I have known people that were called, behind their backs: Purple Lady, Dumpster Diver, Fagan, Backward Charlie, Trash man, Bow Lady, Coupon Cheat or Cigarette Lady by their co-workers, neighbors, church members, store clerks or friends. Many of the names were self explanatory while others had quite a story behind them.

One of the first people I met after moving to a new town was a sweet elderly woman named Arlene, who lived with her husband in a house across the street. At some point in every conversation with each new neighbor I met, I would be asked if I had met the Cigarette Lady yet. One morning I was waiting in the checkout line at the gas station when I heard one clerk mention to another that the Cigarette Lady had been in again. Another day I was in a training class for new checkers at the Shop ‘n Save when the trainer began to mention problem situations and how to handle them. One of her examples was someone called the Cigarette Lady. A few days later I finally met the Cigarette Lady when she knocked on my door asking to borrow a pack of my husband’s smokes. If only took me a second to figure out that my sweet neighbor Arlene was in fact the infamous Cigarette Lady. I soon learned that shortly after being diagnosed with a respiratory disorder and having her cigarette budget cancelled by her husband: Arlene began making the daily rounds of anywhere she thought she could mooch a cigarette. She would hit up all the neighbors and even their guests if she saw them smoking. She would stand outside the gas stations and ask each person that purchased a pack to give her one until the complaints got her evicted from the lot. She would do the same on the parking lots of the super markets and drug stores. As a result she was known my most of the people in town simply as the Cigarette Lady and when they saw her coming they would go the other way to protect their expensive smokes. Did Arlene know how she was perceived by those around her? Did she care? You will have to ask her, but after years of being her neighbor and friend I don’t think so. Her addiction to cigarettes trumped any embarrassment she may have felt. I asked her husband if he was aware of her activities and her nickname. He said that it was a shame and hoped it caused some reduction in her smoking, but it did not change his stance on providing Arlene with cigarette money.

One of the ladies who regularly checked out through my grocery line was known by everyone as the Bow Lady. I never learned the Bow Lady’s real name but I did learn that she was a high school teacher and also taught Sunday school classes at the Baptist church. She was very nice and seemed well liked by her students but even they called her Ms. Bow Lady. The Bow Lady was a attractive matronly woman who wore business suits with white button down collared blouses. She came by her nickname because she had the habit of wearing multi colored package bows made of curly ribbons at the neck of her blouses. Did she know or care that she was considered a strange duck?

If you are a creature of habit and often visit the same places, eat the same food, wear the same color or style of clothing or make the same purchase from your local store----------watch out. You may already have a nickname you may wish you did not have.

As for me I know that I have been called the “Purple Lady” by many of the customers in the stores in which I have worked and that is fine with me. It is my color of choice and two thirds of my wardrobe is made up of something purple. Thankfully, I grew into my eyes and the term “frog eyes” has not been heard since elementary school. My first husband rarely called me anything but “Babe” and my dear Frank ………….. Well that’s for me to know and you to find out.

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