This week’s installment for Sweet Saturday Samples is the opening of Chapter 31 of Adicia’s story, “A New Year Full of Hope.” This is one of the shortest chapters, and it was really cute and fun to write.
“You are not,” Julie insists. “You are not going to call up the radio station with the van Niftriks’ phone and ask them to play a Beatles’ song with your name in it. The disc jockey would either think you were joking or wonder where your parents are and try to get them arrested for not giving you a proper name.”
It’s the first day of 1966, a Saturday, and Adicia, Justine, Ernestine and her friends, and Betsy are sitting around in Betsy’s apartment, having snacks, and playing records while Mr. and Mrs. van Niftrik are out visiting friends for the New Year’s celebration. Girl has been beside herself with excitement since they all got their own copies of Rubber Soul for Christmas and found a song called “Girl” on side two, sung by John, her favorite Beatle.
“It’s my name, ain’t it? I’m proud of my name. I know it might not be my name forever, since I’ll be a woman eventually and it’d seem silly for a woman to go by Girl, but it’s my name now. Why can’t I ask that my special song be played on the radio just for me, as a cool treat for the New Year?”
“I like the song and all, but it’s not exactly about the nicest girl in the world,” Ernestine says. “The girl in the song is really mean to him.”
“Why don’t you lie and say your name is Michelle, if you really want the disc jockey to play a new Beatles’ song with a girl’s name in it?” Julie asks.
Girl laughs. “How many Michelles have you ever known? It might be more common in France, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it on a girl here. If it does ever get more common, you can bet it’ll be onea those names that gets really popular all of a sudden and then probably seems old hat in another generation or two. Take your mother’s name. Didn’t you say it was Susan? That name’s so popular among girls our age right now that you can’t throw a stick without hitting five of ‘em.”
“My mommy’s name was Suzanne.”
“I like that name,” Justine says. “Our next door neighbor Mrs. Doyle told us her real name is Suzanne. I think it has more personality than Susan, even if it does sound almost the same.”
“You got your neighbor to tell you her real name?” Baby asks in surprise. “I thought it was supposed to be rude to ask a grownup her real name.”
“We were looking at her engagement ring in the candlelight during the blackout, and it was inscribed on the inside with her and her husband’s initials and the date they got engaged,” Adicia says. “So we asked what they stood for.”
“What are your parents’ real names, Betsy?” Julie asks. “I guess grownups really do have their own names they use when they’re with other grownups. I know in some places, all grownups call each other Mr. and Mrs. even when there are no kids around, but I don’t think we live in a place like that.”
“My mom’s name is Gloria Ruth, and my dad’s name is Arthur Lawrence. My mom’s maiden name was Reinders. That’s a Dutch name too.”
“Is your real name Betsy?” Infant asks. “I mean, is it short for Elizabeth?”
“Just Betsy. My parents must’ve liked how it sounded on its own. Not all nicknames work by themselves or sound grownup when you get older. Did you ever think of what name you might like for yourself when you get older and might need a true name?”
“I never thought about that. I’m only going on seven. I won’t need a grownup name for a long time.”
“I think I can get away with being called Baby forever,” Baby says. “At least that sounds like a respectful nickname for someone. And your mother once said there’s a French name that sounds like Baby, some name a couple of actresses from the olden days had.”
“Bebe,” Girl supplies as she inches closer to the phone. “I remember one of the women at the squat saying there was an actress named Bebe Daniels that she really liked. She said she also got the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Truman for her war efforts. I’d assume she and those other famous Bebes were going by nicknames, though, since it just means ‘baby’ in French.” She raises the receiver from the hook.
“You’re not really doing it,” Ernestine protests.
“I have the number memorized from how many times they announce it on the air for folks who wanna make requests,” Girl brags as she begins dialing.
“What if Betsy’s parents get mad at an extra charge on their phone bill?” Boy asks.
“I’m so glad we don’t need to talk to an operator and ask to be connected anymore when we place phonecalls,” Girl says as she waits for the disc jockey to pick up. “No more middlewoman.”
The other children sit back in suspense as they hear someone responding on the other end of the line. She surely can’t be so stupid as to publicly admit on the air that her name is actually Girl, and thus invite a lot of questions about her parents and maybe even birth. None of the Ryans have birth certificates, not having been born in the hospital or even attended by a midwife. Their parents knew they could never get away with it if they put down the names Girl, Boy, Baby, and Infant, and admitted they hadn’t been born with any qualified birth attendants in sight.
“Hi. My name is Colleen Ryan, and I’m calling to request my new favorite Beatles’ song, ‘Girl.’ I like it so much ‘cause it’s sung by John, my favorite, and my name means ‘Girl’ in English. I like to pretend he’s singing to me when I hear it, even though I know the girl in the song isn’t so nice.”
“Your wish is my command, Miss Ryan,” the disc jockey tells her.
Girl smiles at them after she hangs up. “See? I told yous guys I could pull it off. You just have to know how to say the right things, use proper English, make up a convincing story.”
“Where’d you dig up the name Colleen?” Julie asks. “Does it really mean ‘girl’?”
“Yup. No one in Ireland would use it, of course, but Irish-Americans who don’t know jack about our language or heritage don’t balk at using it.”
“Maybe you should really pick an Irish name when you have to get a legit name,” Adicia suggests as they hear the disc jockey starting to announce the request on the air. “It’s nice to have a name that shows off where your ancestors came from.”
Girl sits back with her eyes closed dreamily as the radio plays “Girl.” Julie, Ernestine, Betsy, and Adicia like the song too, but still wonder why in the world she’d enjoy having her name in it so much when the lyrics describe a girl who makes her boyfriend feel so poorly and uses guilt to keep him around every time he tries to break up. None of them would ever dare treat a man who loved them so meanly. They’d be too happy just to find a guy to like them and treat them special that they’d never mistreat him or take him for granted, unless of course he were some abusive creep like Francesco. Adicia hopes there are more than a few guys in the world like her big brother Allen or Mr. Doyle and Mr. van Niftrik, and that not all men are as grotesque as Francesco, Carlos, Jacob, Julie or Lenore’s fathers, or her own father.