ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER
Did you ever witness the birth of a nickname? I have-more times than I care to admit.
The most recent one was when our family went on a whirlwind, six-day holiday tour of Los Angeles back in 1999. Our son Ben invited us to spend Christmas on the West Coast and see the sights. As we were cruising the freeway on our way to Venice Beach or Hollywood or Yosemite National Park-I forget-the scars of the most recent earthquake were still visible. The newly repaired concrete pillars that supported the roadways above us rarely escaped my gaze.
I commented, probably more than once, about what it might have been like to be driving when the roadway collapsed.
And then I heard one of my adult children say, “We’re going to call you Apocalypse Paul.”
“Yeah,” was my response. “I’m always finding something scary to talk about.”
At least they came up with a pretty good nickname.
In literature, the movies or in real life, a nickname-whether good or bad-is a short, one- or two-word description about the individual. One rarely needs to know any more details to have an elementary knowledge of the character.
For instance, I have heard two nicknames in the Hillsboro community that need no introduction to know what they mean. They are “Hatchet Ed” and “One Nail Penner.”
No relation to me on either name, of course.
I once worked for a roofing contractor, and we usually had a contest to see who could determine the name of the last roofer or builder. By the time the old roofing material was cleared away, we had a pretty good idea.
Nicknames take on a persona of their own as well. Twenty years ago, whenever an older gentleman met me in town, he would greet me with a Low German rhyme that started with “Peytah Pannah, beckse traanna….”
I never met this Peytah Pannah guy even though I reminded the gentleman of him every time he saw me, which became especially irritating after hearing the rhyme so often.
He and Peytah lived in another world.
I never could come up with a suitable nickname for him either-except maybe, the “I Need a Life” guy.
Another stereotypical nickname I often heard in high school was “jock.” It didn’t bother me much back then. Most athletes like me never minded the fact that it was also the nickname for a uniquely styled piece of sportswear-not to be confused with underwear or a G-string.
Sports was my sole passion, consuming my life outside the classroom. Academics were important, but never as vital as shooting hoops or catching flies in the outfield. The most important grades were written in the record books of sports.
Back then, English teachers expressed their disdain for “jocks.” As a newcomer at a nearby high school, I remember the first sentence my English teacher said to me after I answered her question with my usual flair.
She gave me that stone-cold, steely-eyed stare, her lips turning blue. “I’d just love to wring your neck,” she said, while the class broke into laughter.
How ironic circumstances turn out. My beloved spouse is now an English professor.
At a scholarship banquet held at Tabor one year, I sat next to two of my former English teachers and asked, “Does it surprise you to learn that my spouse is an English teacher?”
“Oh, yes!” was the unanimous response.
In spite of being married to one, I have been able to escape the neck wringing. I am certain my spouse deserves the credit for exercising restraint. Plus, due to my height advantage, she has trouble hanging on even when she tries.
I must give her credit, however. She learned how to deal with people like me. A college athlete once asked her, “How come you treat us different than most other English professors?” She responded: “Oh, that’s easy. I know what makes you tick. I married one of you.”
Whatever the reasons that most nicknames are made, I don’t mind “Apocalypse Paul.” Whenever I remember it, I also remember the fun our family had packing a lifetime of memories into the precious time we spent together.
I remember our walks on the beach and taking in the breathtaking views of Yosemite while dining on a picnic lunch and listening to the sounds of nature along the river bank.
I remember the lively banter and the teasing. I remember the laughter as well as the serious, no-nonsense “from the heart” dialogue. I remember watching my grown-up children coming into their own, appreciating their special abilities, as they expressed their unique perspective of life.
I remember the comfort I felt as I, their father, once again realized that being a parent was well worth the sacrifice of time and effort.
And I didn’t care what they called me, even if it was “Apocalypse Paul.”
But “Hey, Dad” is my favorite nickname. It means that someone special is calling and wants my complete attention.