ATWELL: But What’s Her Name?


But What’s Her Name?

By JIM ATWELL • Special to

I’m at ease on my front porch on a beautiful afternoon, admiring the perspective up tree-lined Delaware Avenue. As the long last block heads toward Chestnut Street, curbs and sidewalks seem to draw together, trees conspire more closely over the street, and the two rows of handsome house fronts, bedecked with flags and hanging planters, draw closer till the last ones opposite each other almost block sight of traffic flashing by on Chestnut.

But now, heading toward me down the sidewalk, is an old friend of my own age. She’s being led along by her leashed dog, Bijou, who, spotting me on the porch, speeds up, tail wagging. The old friend also sees me and waves. Defying perspective, she and Bijou grow larger and clearer as they approach.

I wave back, smiling. How good to see her!

I’ve known her for donkey’s years. Memories flash back – lake sailing, picnics before the opera, Anne and I huddled under big umbrella next to this dear woman and her husband, all of us laughing like fools as rain buckets down on us and on the sheep dog trials. And on the broad field before us, the morose, sodden sheep pushed through their paces by dogs just as wet and bored with the whole business!

What good fun, and what good company with those two. But now, panic in me.

What’s her name? This dear old friend—what’s her name?

Of course I know that aging alone brings with it this sort of forgetfulness. For instance, I remember a  half-dozen Cooperstown ladies of some years ago, weekly luncheon partners for years, who faced this problem and solved it with great good humor. Each agreed to answer to any name another called her, and to respond in kind. The more outlandish the name, the better. And so:

“Good morning, Lackawanna!”  “Hi there, Antibellum.”  “ Hello, Sarsaparilla! You’re running late this morning.”  “Not as late as Delilah Mae – but here she comes.”

And finally, after  Ferdinanda and Leoninny had arrived, into lunch they’d go laughing together. The grinning waitress, hands on hips, would always ask, “OK, now who’s who today?”

Well, that was a great solution, but not applicable as my old friend got closer to the porch. And so, knowing her dog Bijou’s name, I improvised and addressed the dog.

“Hello, Bijou. Good to see you! And you’ve brought a friend with you. Would you introduce us?”

And my old friend, bless her, likely recognized my plight and sympathized at once. She mimicked a high Bijou voice.

“Why this is my mistress, Mary Ellen.” (Of course!) But she continued in the doggie voice.

“And, sir, I’m so sorry, but my memory’s failing me!  What was your name again?”

Jim Atwell, a retired college administrator and Quaker pastor, observes life from his Delaware Street porch.

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