Monthly Archives: July 2015

What’s in a Name?

When I was young – I’m not sure of the exact age, but probably around 11 or 12 – I decided to play with the spelling of my name. I think a lot of kids probably do this, don’t they? I tried Wendee and Wendie and Wendi, writing them over and over in a notebook. (I was hard-core into pen-palling and also tried out different styles of handwriting at the same time.) Eventually I realized I really liked writing Wendi instead of Wendy; I felt like it flowed easier from the tip of my pen. I started using that spelling in all of my pen pal letters, and eventually it crept into all of my everyday usage.

By the time I was a young adult, even my official documents were spelled with an i instead of y. I was so used to spelling my name that way that it just felt natural, and I kind of forgot it was really spelled Wendy on my birth certificate. My driver’s license, checks, even my social security card, at one point, were all spelled Wendi.

When I was 21, I bought my first house and got my first taste of red tape thanks to my name spelling. I had to sign an actual stack of documents with all the iterations of my name (Wendy Maiden Name, Wendy Married Name, Wendi Maiden Name, etc. etc.) that documented that the person with this name spelling was also known as this other name. It was a bit of a pain in the ass, but my hand was already numb from signing papers – what’s a few more signatures?

Over the years, various agencies really started cracking down on the name spelling issue. I had to be careful to use the spelling on my birth certificate if I was getting something that required me to present my birth certificate (marriage license, driver’s license, new social security card). I still kept Wendi on my checks (banks were late to the ‘make it official’ party, I guess) and in all my personal correspondence.

I started having to explain it a little more, though. People would fall all over themselves to apologize if they spelled my name ‘Wendy’ and I would explain that it was actually my official spelling – I just use Wendi for casual use. Then they’d kind of look at me weird. I don’t know why it was such a big deal; I mean, Dave’s official name is David and nobody freaks out about him using the name Dave! But I started having to explain things more and more over the years, and started just using Wendy in more cases – like the doctor’s office.

When we moved to Michigan, I had to get all new documents again and I took the chance to make a full change to Wendy when I did that. My checks, driver’s license, lease, all the various medical professionals I had to switch over to – all of that switched from Wendi to Wendy. The only time I was spelling my name with an i was in email and places like Facebook.

The thing is, though, now Wendi was starting to feel artificial to me because I was so used to spelling my name the real way, with a y. So a week or so ago, I changed my name on Facebook and in my email.

It took a while for people to notice (it’s not like it was a huge change, after all) and then a lot of people were curious why I changed it. It’s funny, isn’t it, how something you do kind of frivolously as a kid can carry through into adulthood. For the longest time, spelling my name Wendi instead of Wendy was just not a big deal, and it was never questioned. In this day and age of accountability and identity theft and having to prove you are who you say you are, though, it was really becoming a problem. So I just took the easiest solution.

Now I need to reverse my reassurance — to people who apologize for spelling my name Wendi instead of Wendy. It is seriously fine with me however you want to spell my name – I love and respond to both spellings.

My kids, though, better still call me Mom (or Momma, or Mama). 😉 The jury is still out on what my grandma name will be – Nana? Grandma? Grammy? We’ll find out next year!

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Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

I like to do this thing where I think ‘At this time last year, I was …’. It’s kind of amazing to look back and see how much things change in a year or five years or whatever. Dave and I were talking about this today because seven years ago at this very moment, I was in the recovery room at the hospital. This day marks seven years since my bilateral cochlear implant surgery.

Seven years ago, Eric was just about to enter college and Paige was just about to enter high school. How weird is that?

Dave reminded me that August 21, the day after I was activated, was the day we moved Eric into his dorm. I remember that like it was yesterday; I could hear sounds, but everything was weirdly robotic and voices were still very strange-sounding, especially the voices of Eric’s roommate and his family. I remember listening to the rhythmic sound of the car tires on the expressway until the sound made sense to me; same with the sound of the turn signal clicking.

So much has changed in seven years. I didn’t know back then whether the surgery would even work, and I wouldn’t hear sound again for another month. (Activation was a month after surgery, after I was mostly healed.)

My Advanced Bionics Harmony cochlear implant processor and headpiece

My Advanced Bionics Harmony cochlear implant processor and headpiece

The processors I wear (Advanced Bionics Harmony) are old news now, even though they were the latest and greatest when I got them. Since then they’ve introduced the Neptune (an off-the-ear, waterproof processor) and the Naida. I still follow the boards on Hearing Journey and offer support/mentoring to people who are curious about getting a CI, but I really can’t offer hands-on experience with the newest technology … and that’s a strange feeling. I might look into upgrading once we move and I know what our financial situation is going to be, but right now every spare penny gets saved for our future home. My Harmony processors are working fine for now (the rechargeable batteries are getting a little worse for wear though; I might need to buy some new ones).

I haven’t really been writing here that much lately. It’s not like anything bad is happening; summer is here and things are going along just fine. A couple of times I started to write a blog post and then got a sense of déjà vu, like I’ve written about the subject before. A quick search then shows me that yep, I wrote about that exact subject two years ago or whatever. I’ve gone through these periods before and I’m sure it’s just temporary. For now I’ll try to pop in and say hey even when there’s not much to say … and eventually I’ll be writing like crazy again.

So here’s to the next seven years – hopefully by then I’ll look back on this post and think ‘Wow, I was still using Harmony processors back then!’

The Feast (from 2013)

I’m re-posting this entry today because this is Feast time in Melrose Park, Illinois and it brings back great memories.  I wrote this in 2013:

There was one constant in the summers of my childhood, a family tradition that carried through until my very late teens.  Every year, in mid-July, we made the trek to Melrose Park for the Italian Feast.  We actually just called it The Feast; everyone knew what we meant.  I only just recently found out that the full name of this festival is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in its 120th year in 2013.

You know how you can take a kid on some amazing outing and they come home and just remember things like the water fountains or the revolving doors in the building?  That might be how my memories of the Feast are now, since it’s been over 20 years since I’ve gone.  But for what it’s worth, these are the things I remember.

Melrose Park is not that far from where we lived, in the western suburbs of Chicago, but as a kid the drive there felt like it took forever.  In reality, we probably got there in 30 to 40 minutes.  I remember going on Sunday, the day of the procession, but we may have gone more than once during the week as well.  We always parked by my Aunt Emily’s house, one of my dad’s sisters; she lived right on the route of the procession.  The biggest anticipation, by far, was guessing when the procession would come into view.  My cousins and I would all sit on the curb in front of my aunt’s house, and we would watch it unfold just inches from our faces.

This parade celebrated the Madonna, and the statue was carried all through the streets.  I always looked for my Grandma Tirabassi, who walked in the parade along with other ladies from the church.  I remember them carrying their rosaries and reciting the Hail Mary.  It used to just blow my mind to see my grandma in the parade; she felt like a celebrity to me, and I was always so proud when I saw her.

When the parade ended, people from along the route would join in and walk along at the end.  I did this quite a few times; it was the only time I was ever in a parade, even though I wasn’t an official participant.  This was such a huge, big deal to me as a kid.

My aunt’s house is etched in my memory, but vaguely.  I actually lived in the lower level with my parents for the first couple years of my life.  I remember she usually had a spread of food set out in the garage; there were tables and chairs set up, and people would wander in and out.  There was a big stone or cement porch on the front of her house, and we kids made a big deal out of jumping off the side of the porch onto the grass below.  When I was young, I considered this to be very risqué and dangerous; my boy cousins (and there were many of them) liked to play Evel Knievel and do daredevil jumps.

I had quite a few cousins either my age or within a year or two of me, as well as my brother who was two years younger than me.  We were all usually there at the same time.  I was the only girl in this age range; my other girl cousins were all older than me, old enough to not be hanging out with a little kid like me (I don’t blame them).  I loved being around my cousins, who were all boisterous and laughing and happy kids.  They all treated me kindly, even if I didn’t always join in with their shenanigans.  There were always tons of people around, people I called ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ even if that wasn’t really their relation to me.  It was just what you called the adults back then.  I would see familiar faces, faces I saw every year at the Feast, people I was happy to see even if I couldn’t remember their names.  There was just such a feeling of comfort and tradition.

I don’t remember any fights or bickering on Feast day.  The adults all seemed to be happy; the kids were all beyond excited.  My aunt lived within walking distance of the actual festival so people would walk down to the Feast area and then back to her house all throughout the day.  Sometimes my cousins would come back with gifts or treats from a stall, and I would beg my parents to get me the same thing.  There were usually balloons there, and I always got a balloon.  Sometimes I’d get the kind that had a shape inside, which I thought were just the best balloons ever.  I think sometimes they were on a stick instead of a string.

When I was very young, I always walked with my parents to the festival area.  We’d walk along the streets, some of which were actually brick and looked like cobblestone streets.  I always loved those and thought they looked so pretty and old-fashioned.  A lot of people had nativity sets and Madonna statues set up in their front yards, and we would admire these decorations as we walked.  Often my parents would know the people who lived along the route to the Feast, so we would stop and chat.  Most people had a set-up like my aunt’s, with food set out in the garage and tables and chairs filled with relatives and friends.

There was a big sign that signified the start of the festival area; when it came into view, my heart would beat faster and I knew we were almost there.  Even now, looking at a picture of that sign brings back those old childhood feelings of excitement and anticipation.

feast sign

Once we got there, it was a crush of people.  People everywhere, getting food or talking in groups or buying trinkets.  Many people had red, white and green t-shirts and Italia jackets on.  Most people were Italian, and I’d hear a mixture of Italian and accented English.  My dad always bought us Italian ice, my absolute favorite treat.  It wasn’t ice like a sno-cone, or really ice at all; it was creamy, bright white and bursting with lemon flavor.  It was sold in a little fluted white paper cup; I would finish it and then push up the bottom of the cup, trying to make sure I didn’t miss any of the sweet, tart delicacy.  I’ve never been able to find Italian ice quite like the kind I had at the Feast; what they sell in grocery stores is not the same thing at all.  Gelato comes close and, oddly enough, so does the Italian ice that Culver’s sells in the summer.

I remember my dad buying these flat, yellow beans; he would squeeze the outer skin and pop the bean into his mouth.  They were sold in little wax bags, and until I did an online search the other day, I never realized they were lupini beans.  Of course, the smell of grilled Italian sausage was everywhere; that and Italian beef were the two main things I remember besides the Italian ice and my dad’s beans.

There was a carnival as well, and we always went on the rides.  As I got older, the carnival became the main attraction for me (well, that and the Italian ice).  As a teenager, it was easy to flirt with the carnival workers and get them to give us free rides; one time my friend and I got 15 free rides in a row on the Zipper.  (Never underestimate the power of flirting!)

Since we had to cross a busy road to get to the actual festival, it was a big deal when my parents finally allowed us to go to the Feast by ourselves.  Sometimes all the cousins would go as a pack; as I got older, I’d sometimes go with whatever friend I’d brought along to keep me company.  (Once I hit junior high and high school, I almost always brought a friend along.)  We would pass a place that sold soft-serve ice cream and that was another big treat, especially getting to go there by ourselves and order whatever we wanted.

In the alleys of the side streets, people would set off huge, massive packs of firecrackers that would pop and bang for long, noisy minutes at a time.  When I was very young, I was terrified of firecrackers so I would hide in my aunt’s house along with her dog, who was as scared as I was.

Once I moved out and then got married and was living on my own, I stopped going to the Feast.  My father actually discouraged me from going in the late 80s and early 90s because there were fights breaking out – I’m not sure if it was actually gangs or just rowdy guys, sometimes with guns.  The last time I went was in 1990, when Eric was just a month or so old.  I didn’t fear for my life or anything, but it just wasn’t the same.  The magical feeling I used to get from the Feast was gone, and I didn’t want to replace my good memories with something else.  I haven’t been back since.

Part of what made it so special for me was just family, having everyone gathered at my aunt’s, eating and talking and laughing.  Part of it was the novelty of getting to go to a carnival, get yummy treats and little gifts I normally wouldn’t get.  (I still have a rosary my grandmother bought me one year.)  Part of it was being trusted to walk there with my cousins and/or my friends, that first exhilarating taste of freedom from adult supervision.

In my mind, memories of the Feast are mixed up with warm sunshine, laughter, wafts of smoke from Italian sausages on the grill, waiting waiting waiting for the procession to start, and sweet, tart, cold lemon.

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