WHEN I lifted the jug of detergent onto the checkout counter to begin the weekly jollity with the scanner and the scannerperson, I noticed a button on her frock telling me her name is Alice. So as I reached up for the bottle of olives, I said, "Grave Alice and laughing Allegra and Edith with golden hair."
She said, "You got any coopons?"
Next was a rack of lamb, and I said, "Nary a coop!"
Then came the twink-twink-twink, and as the two packages of cream cheese went by she said, "What was that you said about Alice?"
"The poet said it - I just quoted it. Grave Alice and hilarious Allegra and the blonde."
"Shakespeare?" she said.
"Nope. Our own Hank Longfellow, grandson of Gen. Peleg Wadsworth of the Bagaduce."
"That's $73.82," she said.
Next time I'm going to look for an Allegra.
Some time ago I ran into a similar disappointment with Helen. "And this is Helen," somebody said and I rallied to an opportunity. Out came, "Ah! Helen! Thy beauty is to me like those Nicean barks of yore!"
"What'd-ya say?" said Helen.
I said, "I said the dogs are barking on the shore."
My small research on this theme is sufficient to conclude that for every Alice who never heard of Longfellow, there is a Helen who never heard of Poe. Which may not be important, but it does frustrate a certain amount of light banter that might prevail otherwise.
This is assuaged sometimes, as when I recently found an Esther who knew about the other Esther. This one, a waitress, served us on my cook's night out. She wore a tag that said,
I Don't Mind!
Call me Esther!
When she handed me the menu I said, "You won't believe this, but I used to know a woman named Vashti."
"I know all about that," said Esther. "Vashti made a big booboo. She wasn't smart. But I never knew any Vashti, 'cept the one in the Bible."
"Mine," I said, "was the mother of Charlie Stover, a boy in school with me. She was a big female libber before her time."
Esther said, "So was ol' Queenie Vashti, but things backfired. You two gonna have the soup?"
"Please, and warm it. This Vashti I knew got herself elected Master of South Durham Grange - back before words like master meant anything else."
"Good for her! Now, the soup-du-jour is minestrone and the choice is cream of asparagus. Don't the Grange have women masters?"
"She's the only one I ever heard of."
And verily it was even so.
South Durham Grange was having a lean year, and when none of the men wanted the job, Mrs. Stover took it. She'd been Ceres and Pomona and the other lady officers, so she knew the Grange work forward and backward, and the only question came on whether a woman could be a master. The solution was to try it and see how it worked. As far as I know she may have been the only one.
Our waitress, Esther, said that was interesting, and would we have the broccoli or the stewed ter-may-ters?
I had the ter-may-ters. I said Mrs. Stover did a good job and was master for several terms.
"Ayeh," said Esther. "I read that story again every so often. My mother read it time and time again to us girls - we were Ruth, Naomi, Sarah, and me. I always thought Ruth was the best story."
"The Book of Esther," I said, "doesn't mention God at all."
"It don't? I never noticed that. Must-a been an oversight. Explains some kind of holiday, I think."
"Eyeh, that's it - Purim. You folks gonna have the dessert?"