It’s a crisp, clear fall Saturday morning, and Small Sister and I are hanging at the park. Her mother’s in a yoga class nearby, and I’m happy to entertain Sis while my daughter gets an hour of stretching and peaceful introspection. Sis currently occupies the mid-point in that sanity-stretching, two-year-old year, when hanging with her can be many wonderful things, but peaceful is not among them.

We soon make our way on the playground to the People’s Choice, the swings (in Sis-Speak, known as sfings) and settle in for some prolonged sfinging. Great upper-body exercise, as I push from behind, striving to accommodate pleas of “higher, higher,” when she stops me in mid-push with an unexpected request. “Evie,” she asks intently, twisting around in her seat to look me in the eye, “Will you sing to me?”

Now, I confess this fundamental truth: Asking me to sing is a bit like asking a Formula One driver if he would care to push the gas pedal just a wee bit harder. I sang everywhere I went as a child, starting not much older than Sis is now, and music has been one of the richest threads running through my life since. In church choirs, in the shower, as lead at birthday parties, any place, any time, I will jump into the tune. I’ve often daydreamed about how music might play a role in the lives of Sis and her brother, and how I might nurture that along.

But when called upon to provide a Spontaneous Soundtrack for Sfinging, I suddenly freeze. Can’t recall a single line of an appropriate children’s song. Are there any? Rockabye baby? Trilling on about a baby who falls from a treetop, while she’s sfinging? Perhaps not.

So the mind wings instead to the musical catalogue of the heart, residing in the imagination like one of those old table-top jukeboxes at Jerry’s, where you could page through the metal-bound lists of selections before plunking in your coins and shoving the red button. What selection to sing for Sis?

The songs of my impressionable young fan years were mostly folkie—James Taylor, Carole King, and forever favorites Simon and Garfunkel, with their lyrics of unforgettable poetry. (“This is my song, for the asking, ask me and I will play, so sweetly, I will make you smile…”) Later, no doubt in an angry phase, there were the screaming edges of classic rock. Come to think of it, with her personality, I can easily picture Sis as a Led Zeppelin fan (“Wanna Whole Lotta Love!”). More recently, in my beloved Music City, there’s been full immersion in the omnipresent American roots music, in all its glorious forms, traditional and new. I Saw the Light? A few bars of Vince Gill’s Whenever I Call Your Name?

We were a musical family, growing up, though strictly as amateurs. My parents kept one of those massive cabinet record players in the front hall, and their frequent cocktail parties featured background soundtracks of great Broadway shows like The King and I, along with the smoky rhythms of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. We studied and played, too. My older sister, the most gifted among us by far, progressed to prodigy-level skill at the piano as a young teen. Even better, she tumbled permanently into family lore one year by falling flat on her face while ascending the stage steps at her piano recital. The best part was she laughed so hard at herself that she could hardly lift her fingers to the keyboard when she finally got there.

When begged by my mother, who to this day sees brilliance in her progeny that remains invisible to the rest of humanity, we sometimes clustered our efforts into duos or trios that must have mystified visiting family and friends. (“Were you there the night their kids played the piano, tuba, and ukulele, YES, all at the same time!?”) Let me digress here and offer a blanket apology to anyone still living who endured one of these mash-ups. We appreciate your kindness in not laughing your way straight back to the bar before the song was over.

Suddenly, I am jerked out of my reverie by Sis insistently repeating her request. “Evie! Will you sing?”

And I am as surprised as anyone by what flows from my throat, out into the fall breeze that tangles her blonde curls and rustles the tree limbs above us.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost…”

Quick! Twenty minutes on the clock. Go.

Living room: Art pottery whisked off coffee table, stowed on top of fridge. DVR remote up onto mantle, same place each time, in fervent hope I can remember where to reclaim it. Embroidered throw pillows on couch, turned face-in. Hand-knit artisan chenille throw, folded, stashed.

Hall bath: Potty lid open and ready. Ample supply of TP. Footstool positioned in front of sink, rendering soap, water tap, and hand towels within reach. Small prayer muttered to the Potty Angels.

Kitchen! Most important. Contents of half-empty wine bottle (why was it open, damn thing has a twist-off cap, for pete’s sake, never mind, no time for self-recrimination) dumped, rinsed for recycling. Half-eaten chocolate bar with nuts (what’s with leaving half of things?) definitely worth saving; wrapped and hidden in high cabinet. Knife for slicing brother’s fabulous venison sausage (it was great with that wine), rinsed, dried, returned to drawer. Smelly sausage wrappers that have been torturing dog tossed into trash. (Ignore devastated dog.) Extra paper towels for inevitable spills, within reach. Flavored sparkling water, favorite permissible drink, in fridge to chill. Pre-approved snacks moved into front row in reachable cabinet; unapproved varieties, top shelf, out of sight line, behind dog medicine.

Home office: Pens capped, put away. Computer off. Bank statement, appalling credit card bill, shredded. Grownup desk-distraction toy—tiny, working miniature of my car—visible and ready if needed for floor racing again.

Hall bath: check potty lid again. Open and ready. Switch light on, to guard against seeker taking wrong

Master bedroom: Over-sized decorative bed pillows propped up, the better for TV-watching that masquerades as nap-taking. Dirty laundry yanked off bed, chair, and stool and hurled into hamper; what have I been doing this week? Perennial favorite, a small stuffed gorilla named Harry sent by my mother to make me laugh after I had surgery years back, nestled in usual position atop pillows, watching gamely for visitors.

Hall bath: one more confirmation of potty readiness. Can’t be too careful.

Breathe, now. Listen for door-knocking: any minute, the children will be here.

When the news came awhile back that my first grandchild was on the way, it was, in all candor, a major shock–a two-step process, like an earthquake and its attendant after-shock. The first-wave tremors brought joy, of course; I knew my daughter and her husband would be terrific parents and would cherish the child to come.

Then the aftershock rippled out: Wait! My daughter is having a baby, which means I’m about to become a…..well, I just couldn’t say it. The g-word simply would not emerge from my mouth. Sure, of course, naturally, the baby would be wonderful. But that, in turn, meant I was old enough to be a….(help me out and fill in that word here). Anyone who has been through this for the first time and has not been astonished to find herself old enough to welcome a new generation is…perhaps a more mature, self-aware adult than yours truly. But, I digress.

Once this news begins to spread, one of the first questions you get is, “What do you want to be called?”

This query generated enormous pressure, along with uncertainty, because, after all, don’t the children often make this decision by some comic happenstance? Best come up with a preference, I was advised, to at least steer it in a direction you like.

Still in denial, I began with the process of elimination. First: No g-words. Not Grandma, heaven forbid, or Granny, so much worse, or Nana (endearing and slightly historical, but not for me) or Grandmother (we are not the Queen of England, after all).

When scanning history for precedents, we all hear of examples that, like mosquitoes in August, cannot be eradicated with the most Olympian of efforts, but remain a bit embarrassing to explain to outsiders. Thankfully, these seem to victimize men a bit more frequently, who perhaps take it in better stride. There’s Peepaw (surely an accidental derivation of potty-training terminology), Pap-pap (is the grandfather a gynecologist?), and so forth.

Our family has its own share of these so-called originals. Addressing the relational question “Who’s that?” when my toddler older sister pointed at my grandmother, my Mom answered logically, “That’s MY mama.” This quickly morphed into, and forever remained, Mamama, along with, its companion, Dadaddy. (Imagine our surprise to learn, decades later, of another family, completely unrelated, whose children coined exactly the same names for exactly the same reasons. Another illusion of uniqueness, gone like the wind.) We called my paternal grandfather Bubba, which seems ironic, in these times. He was a highly successful dentist, an excellent golfer, a lover of fine cars and elegant clothes; he certainly bore no resemblance to the rough-edged image currently conjured by that moniker in the South, rightly or wrongly. However, I sense that he and I are kindred spirits across the generations. The story goes that he told my older sister that he was his son’s (my father’s) brother, unwilling, like me, to acknowledge his age. My sister babbled “Bubba” for “brother,” and so he became.

A formal market research survey—okay, I asked a few of my friends—revealed I was not alone in seeking a G-title that would not evoke gray hair in a bun, an apron at the waist, and enthronement in a rocking chair. One chose Mimi, which I think rather elegant and continental. Someone mentioned Lovie, which is charming, but on the sugary side. “I’m going to be called Gran,” said another. “To me, that’s much sexier than other versions of the G-word. I don’t want people to think I’m 100 years old.” And so, the new generations arrive, while some of us—and you know who you are–still look in the mirror and defy it to tell us the truth.

As for me, I finally landed on a derivation of my own name, the endearment my father called me: Evie. It’s informal enough to convey a special bond, short enough for a child to say easily, and, far, far away from other realities, with which I continue to grapple in my head and heart.

Nevertheless, I am especially partial to the name my small grandson came up with, for reasons that escaped us all, for his grandfather on his dad’s side. After all, when genius comes from your own flesh and blood, how can you resist? It is pithy, features alliteration, and it even conjures a classic Stephen Foster tune:


Sometimes you just can’t improve on the work of a master.