Ever aware of the Ping-Pong table piled high with the immense amount of laundry that nine children generate, my father laid down one of his rules to make the household run more smoothly, especially for my mother:
While he couldn't control how many dirt, grass, or food stains we marked our shirts and jeans with, he felt he could at least reduce the laundry pile if we stained only one, rather than numerous, pairs of socks a day. While this was a rule in more than one family I know, we had a few unique ones that we lived by, too.
My father, named after his father, was always called something other than his formal name. Sometimes it was "Freddie" or "Junior" or "Fritz," but most often it was "Sonny." So, when it came to naming each of their nine children, my parents' list of possible names was narrowed considerably by my father's rule: No names with possible nicknames.
"I've always liked the name Robert," Mom said.
"Rob, Robbie, Rob, Bob, Bobbie, Bob ... way too many possibilities for confusion." Dad countered.
"Or, if it's a girl, maybe something different, like Matilda?" she ventured, with hope at the edge of her voice.
"Tillie, Mattie.... End it with an 'ie' or a 'y'? Too cutesy," he stated.
"How about 'Eileen'?"
"Eili, Leen, Leenie. That's what the other kids would call her."
in the end, they gave us all short names, presumably without the possibility of nicknames being attached or derived from them.
Of course, it didn't work out exactly as he'd planned. Gail became "Abigail," a name we siblings gave her only because we knew she didn't like it. Joan and Brian were "Wags," a shortened version of our last name. Eric became "Al," when an elderly gentleman continued to call him "Alec." His friends shortened it to "Al."
Paul became "Walt," after Walter Wallenda, the trapeze artist, for his acrobatic abilities while standing on a ladder and painting high ceilings. I was "Babes," which my brothers called me because I cried often as a child.
Myra became "Myo." It was just easier to say. Nora was "Nori" because we didn't want to confuse her with three other Noras in our extended family. And Marcia became "Marci," because by the time she came along, we children all preferred nicknames and my father had given up on his quest.
When my brother Brian was still in single-digit years, he was fascinated with cowboys in general and Roy Rogers in particular. He sauntered, bowlegged, around the house in worn, brown, simulated-leather cowboy boots for far longer than they could possibly have fit him comfortably.
He strapped a tan holster around his waist. He pinned a silver star to his vest. But he didn't carry a toy gun.
He begged and pleaded for a gun. He tried to turn vegetables, Barbie dolls, and his fingers into gun substitutes - only to be reprimanded time and again. My father held firm in his conviction. "No guns.""But why not?" Brian whined. "Why not? I can't be Roy Rogers without a gun."
"Because," my father said, "guns are not toys. If you want, you can change your name to Roy, but you can't carry a gun."
Fast-forward 30 or so years to my stint as a parent. At a garage sale recently, my 6-year-old daughter held up a T-shirt with the store name emblazoned across the chest in iridescent letters, I shook my head "no."
"But I like it, Mom," she said. "It sparkles."
"It certainly does," I said, "but it also advertises a product."
Scowling, she put the shirt down and rummaged through the pile of clothes on the table, hoping to find another equally dazzling shirt.
Stepping around the corner, my 12-year-old daughter asked if she could buy a red-white-and-blue shirt with "Save the Earth: Recycle" written horizontally, vertically, and upside down. I nodded "yes."
She smiled until she saw her 6-year-old sister standing in front of her with hands on her hips. Staring at her older sibling, she demanded, "Why does she get a shirt with writing, and I don't?"
"Because," I reasoned, envisioning my father laying down the rules, "You can support a cause, but you can't advertise a product on your clothing."
As I continued to rummage through the pile at the sale, I found a baseball cap. I tried it on.
"What do you think, girls?" I asked, expecting from them the standard, "Nice, Mom" response.
Instead, they pointed to the side of my cap and shook their heads. I took it off and stared at a faint Nike logo on the side that I hadn't noticed before.
"But I don't have a cap this color for my collection," I protested, "and it fits me really well."
"Those are the rules, Mom," my 6-year-old said.