|Dad and I, August 1969|
When I was in junior high, Dad and I began a tradition that lasted until I graduated from college. Seventh grade was the pits. I was the shortest kid in my class. I was a four-eyed bookworm in a Jane Fonda aerobics era. And Dad’s company transferred him to second shift.
I tried to be glad about the promotion. According to the company’s mission statement, White-Rodgers produced HVAC and appliance products that made people everywhere feel better. Everyone except me. I’d lost my breakfast date. I’d lost my after-school math tutor. I felt like a child from a broken home, reduced to seeing my dad only on weekends.
One morning Mom tried to cheer me by suggesting I eat breakfast at Dad’s desk. Trying to accept this substitute, I sat on a small section of Dad’s big, black chair. I stared at the desk’s smooth top for several seconds before noticing a napkin with blue letters on it. "Dear Bird," the note began.
We exchanged messages on every kind of paper—the backs of envelopes, wrappers from packages and pieces of newsprint. The delivery point always was Dad’s desk, the area where he placed his evening glass of iced tea and morning cup of coffee. Dad would find his messages at 11 p.m. when he came home from work, and I’d find mine when I woke up in the morning.
Dad never really explained why he began calling me Bird. True, I had pale, thin legs. Yes, I loved the sound of my own voice, and if I weren’t speaking, I was singing. I hoped Dad had picked the moniker for more glamorous reasons, but the bottom line was if Dad chose it, I loved it.
Some notes contained jokes, while others motivated or consoled me. Napkins and envelopes were there for me when I didn’t get a dream date for my junior prom and when I was one point away from getting a full scholarship to the college of my dreams.
When I began college, I assumed I would trade notes on napkins for notes on Western Civ. Coming home one weekend to celebrate my birthday, I stumbled from my old bedroom to the bathroom to find Dad had drawn a birthday cake with candles on a piece of toilet tissue. That white square with blue ink is one of the most cherished items in my memorabilia box.
Not long after I graduated from college, Dad began exhibiting the signs of Alzheimer’s. He no longer called me Bird, and my family stopped using the name too, as it caused Dad too much confusion.
A decade later, as Dad entered the final stages of the disease, I met the man who would become my husband. I almost dropped the dish I was washing the first time Marcelo called me Bird.
I’ve never figured out how the two most important men in my life both chose the same nickname for me. Like Dad, Marcelo never has been able to completely articulate his selection. I still eat like a bird, move like a bird and stand like a bird. (Did I mention that I like to relax with my left foot resting on my inner thigh as I balance on my right leg like a 64-inch egret?)
My first year of marriage, I was sent to cover a news story about a television crew filming a Japanese action-adventure series at a Northern California sky-diving firm. The name of the series was “Hyakuman,” and the hero was someone who could do anything, including free falling to rescue a bag of gold coins dropped from the antagonist’s airplane. My husband’s pet name for me took a spin that day as well, as he began calling me Hyakubird. Anytime an editor handed an assignment to me I just knew I couldn’t accomplish, Marcelo would say, “Nonsense. Hyakubird can do anything.”
Quick. Get a napkin. I need to write a note to tell this man how much I love him.
Who gave you your nickname and why?
|Marcelo and I, 1998|