Opa Says 'Yes'

A little history before we jump into the present or think about the future.

For thirteen years I was the only grandchild. For the remaining reign of my premier grandchild status, I am still the only girl. In the eyes of a proud grandfather, that combination rules the roost. No matter what it was I pined for – to dance on the kitchen table, candy, a new bike – Opa acquiesced to my every whim. In defense of the frequently outrageous requests and/or subsequent behaviors, my response would be “Opa says yes” to curious or often furious family member inquiries and admonitions.

 I often spent weekends and entire summers with my grandparents. Much of that time was spent following along when they made daily visits to their local small businesses. There were two laundromats and a “business store” that sold typewriters, calculators, desks, lamps, and the like. I always entertained myself no matter which store we were visiting. At the laundromats, I filled the soda machines and lined up all the detergent boxes by color. I think i drank my weight in Tab during the process. In the business store, I would hide under one of the many desks sneaking cookies or freshly sharpened pencils. I honestly accredit my entrepreneurial spirit to my maternal genetic lineage and my love of typewriters to those moments spent napping in sync to their diligent hum.

Before typing would enter my skill set, I had to first tackle handwriting. In elementary school, I was sent to the office to be fitted with a special brace for my hand. I wasn’t holding the pencil “correctly”. In order to conform my script grip, I had to wear a metal whisk-looking device while writing. I eventually learned to hold the pencil like the rest of the class. If not, just to avoid being teased for being singled out by the Special Ed teacher.

Later, as a teenager, I learned to type at the behest of my mother. She was educating adult learners at the time and my father and I were often the guinea pigs for her custom programming. Since the typing course, I could never forget: the quick fox jumped over the lazy dog – the classic pangram designed to show off every letter of the alphabet. Typing was a skill that later evolved into a mandatory necessity. Throughout school, typing or “word processing” as it was referred to was a chore. But then I discovered that I could type out my poems. Once this realization came to me, it opened a door that has yet to be closed.

Now, from daily keyboard usage, my wrists are red and sore. My pisiform bones have become raised, shiny bumps from the continual rubbing on desktops. Much to my Special Ed teacher’s chagrin, my hand written words have suffered from lack of use. I often cannot read my own hand writing, so I rely on typing as essential to my survival.

Last summer I purchased a Remington 10 40 from the flea market in Ocean Grove. That's a vintage typewriter for all you who were born after 1990. The turquoise color beckoned me from across the dusty, junk-laden tables and I knew instinctively, I would not and could not leave without it. My husband, ever the realist/strategist, pointed out that I shouldn’t pay full price, no matter the high Pinterest value of the item. Yet, a dull cloud had settled around my ears and all I could think of was the clickety-clack of the keys and the bell of the return sounding. I would write masterpieces! I would leave scattered love notes to my husband around the house! I would have the envy of my cousins who would receive hand-typed birthday wishes from my hipster machine! It wasn’t until after the cloud had lifted and we were carrying the heavy blue case to the car that I realized I had crossed a line, and, paid full price to boot.

Today, it sits in my studio mocking me like a blue-green postcard from the Carribbean.  Even after a Martha Stewart-like cleaning, the sticky arms only fly up and down with extreme pressure; the tape ribbon only making an impression with the right amount of keystroke. However, there were a few love notes and a half-composed poem. I’ve left the hopes of a masterpiece to my digital keyboard. So sometimes I question if it was a good decision to pay $55.00 for a typewriter from the 1960s just so I could look at it? Then I smile and think Opa says ‘yes.’

 

 

Originally posted 12.2014

Origin Story: Aunt Mary, The Oracle

I was supposed to be a boy. My parents were going to name me Martin (after the guitar manufacturer). So certain they were having a boy, they didn’t even pick a girl’s name. Mid-labor, in a Volkswagen Beetle racing towards the hospital, they thought it might be a good idea to come up with one just in case

My father suggested Deborah. Mom thought “too stuffy”. Mom suggested Rebecca. Dad thought “too biblical”. They mulled over Bree, after having recently seen the movie Klute, where Jane Fonda portrays a prostitute with an awesome feathered hairstyle. They reconsidered for obvious reasons.

Then my father thought of his mother’s name, Stephanie. (Sorry Ma, you were too intent on crushing the glove compartment handle and cursing Lamaze, I have to give Dad more credit in this instance.)
Then, as a nod towards a great grandmother Anne, my middle name was chosen. I was in a hurry to get here, so it’s good they could make important joint decisions on the fly. Way to go, parents!!!

A name with 21 letters is an awful lot for a little girl to carry. Who knew that the 1980s would usher in a lifetime of name changes along with a fetish for leg warmers, roller skates, and Molly Ringwald movies? Apparently, my Aunt Mary. She had a feeling. Oh, what a feeling! (She was NOT dancing on the ceiling. She was making pierogi.) I was in the other room entertaining myself. She had to check. It sounded like there were other people in the room. Turns out I was adept at giving a voice to all my make-believe characters. It was then that I was dubbed the Girl of a Thousand Voices.

The pseudonyms began in earnest with the Clash of the Titans. Not the cataclysmic mythological event, but the movie. What inspired a really fabulous Halloween costume, also gave birth to my first nom de plume. My elementary school assignments were returned home completed by 'Diana'. Goddess of the hunt. Now I understand the irony of the meanings of antiquity – she possessed the abilities to speak to and control animals. At the time, I was influenced by the flowing, golden toga and braids.

Stinky? That was not an alias of choice. I still do not know the origins of this. Dad, do tell. Although, my husband might attribute it’s recent resurgence to my fiber-laden diet.

Later I cycled through alternate spellings as if the re-combinations of letters might allow me more creative freedom from the multitudes of similarly named girls in my class. There were notebooks full of practicing signing my name Stephany, Stefani, C’stefan  Don’t ask about the last iteration. It was during a francophile phase.

The most delicious renaming was unveiled during my high school graduation. Considering my tenure of detentions, it was sweet revenge to listen to the principal stumbling over my name in apparent disbelief as I strolled up to receive my diploma. I massaged my middle name a little on the graduation form and his office was none the wiser until he read the roster aloud over the loudspeaker, “Stephanie Angelica…”. (Pan right to parental unit in their stadium seats), My family was confused, but elated. Still cracks me up to this day.

Then came Stellar. What began as an ode to honor my paternal grandmother’s nickname, Stella, ended up serendipitously twisted by a New Jersey accent-twinged tongue. An introduction during an interview resulted in several years of exhausting explanations. Certain cheeky fellows would ask if it were my stage name, to which, I would reply with a dreamy “my parents are hippies” in defensive deflection. However, during this period of time I didn’t feel stellar at all. Assuming this name was yet another way I subconsciously tried to hide my very real terror of being alive. Having survived a fatal car accident in which my best friend was killed, hiding from the world and that moment in time was all I sought after.

Eventually I bounced back to my maiden name for professional reasons, but then quickly assumed a new surname with marriage. It was yet another version of my name that allowed me to avoid accepting myself as I was. Post-fallout of that relationship I wanted to be me, wanted to live up to the legacy of the name I was given, wanted to claim any happiness that I could. Again, I searched for external references. The Greek roots of Stephanie mean ‘crowned one”. It was time I faced myself and behaved regally, with aplomb. It was time to reclaim my roots. So I applied for a new last name to fit my former first name. 

Since my first name was in honor of my paternal grandmother, Stephanie, I thought it was time to pay homage to my maternal grandmother in kind. So I absorbed her maiden last name – Sommerlad. A couple years passed and I felt more like ‘me’ with each step forward I took. And then I met my husband, Nicholas – my partner, my missing piece. When we sealed the deal officially, I added his surname as my final step towards the whole me. My father remarked that I had to go from the beginning of the alphabet to the end and back again to find myself. 

What’s in a name? If you ask me, it's a whole bunch of stories. So you can call me anything you like, but my Aunt Mary called it first.

 

 

Originally posted 11.2014

First edition!

Hello fellow word-lovers, keepers of quotes, collectors of quirky bookmarks, and late-night flashlight wielders – welcome!

In conjunction with my website, this is the very first exploration of my blog “voice”. I hope you find it engaging and clever. I hope you consider returning to the page, this page that is, again and again. And so it begins…

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away in a place called New Jersey, there was a closet. Inside that closet was a little girl and a wall of shelves lined with books. The residents of the modest home in which the closet was located referred to it as a bedroom, my bedroom. In reality, it was a converted closet – no larger than 6 feet wide by 10 feet long. So I felt akin to Harry Potter right out of the gate even though I would not discover him until many years later.

I also felt akin to the Book Mobile. It made yearly stops at my elementary school and the thought of its magical contents drove me wild with anticipation. My parents would check and recheck their checkbook to make sure they could afford all the selections I circled on the worksheet, but they always made sure they could. Books piled high from waist to chin, I would step out of the traveling bookstore with delight. I had to promise I would read them all and my parents would quiz me on the contents. Sure enough, I had read them all. 

I cannot recall the first book I ever read, but I do recall consuming words like it was the air I breathed. My tote bag was always so heavy leaving the county library. So many nights I would be told my eyes would fail in the dim light under the covers and to go to bed. Yet, I couldn’t ever break away from stories. They fed me, they shaped me, they comforted me.

I loved stories so much, I made them up whenever I could. My storytelling got out of hand a few times in school, resulting in me often being held after school in detention. It was never any real trouble, but my stories kept my focus and the attention of my classmates more often than not.

As an adult, there was a long period of time though, when I left my story on the shelf. A long time passed where I did not read or write or create anything. I was extremely unhappy and unfulfilled – I was a shell of the self I was supposed to be. That version of my life had to completely shatter before I could turn the page and begin again, anew. After much internal revelation and hard work, and many quiet moments alone with my heart, I returned to myself. I even tattooed “words” on my wrist, so that I would be reminded to always reach for what I love, what is important to me.

My journey to be the person I was meant to be, the whole me, has already begun. As part of that journey, I have finally completed my first work of fiction. A children’s book. A nod to my younger self and a gift to my new, adult self. So please join me in celebration of all those words that have ever made you who you are and me who I am. Read on, my friends, read on.

 

 

Originally posted 11.2014