Letter from America.
By Cara Sheridan O’Donnell.
Wow! What a greeting! Following my inaugural article, I received e-mails from many more DPN readers than I had anticipated. Most pertained to my family’s wellbeing in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. (In answer to that one, we are fine, but thousands of others face months of rebuilding their lives. Sandy left deep scars, to be sure, but we New Yorkers are a resilient lot!) Several readers asked more personal and specific questions: What do I do in my spare time? What other books would I recommend? One even asked me for a recipe for an Amish dish! (No can do: My foray into the “plain” life was not long enough to master even one.) But because my DPN publisher wanted a longer columnist’s biography, I thought I would get that out of the way by responding to some of those e-mailed questions. What better way to kill two birds with one stone than to provide biographical material in the form of selected trivial facts that define me as the ordinary American woman I am?
Born in New York City and raised on Long Island, where much of the seafood sold in stores and restaurants is caught that very morning, I am, sadly, deathly allergic to clams. I am also allergic to most antibiotics, as well as to the pesky red fire ants so common in the state of Georgia, where I lived from 1994 until 2010. This makes me a very unsuitable guest at a clambake, a problem patient for doctors, and an insurance liability at any Southern garden party. (I am loads of fun otherwise.)
Some of my friends view me as a high-ranking member of the Grammar Police. I cannot imagine why. I simply happen to believe that people should master their native language, especially the lingo of their chosen profession. I won’t use a realtor who pronounces herself a “ree-la-tor” or buy anything from a jeweler who refers to his wares as “jew-lery,” but does that make me a bad person? There is no law against my refusal to make a follow-up appointment with a dermatologist who can’t make the distinction between nevus (singular mole) and nevi (plural) – not that I have any of those unsightly blemishes, of course (!) – or who asks if a rash is “puritic” instead of “pruritic.” (If he can’t pronounce the adjectival form of pruritus, he should just say “itchy.”) A florist should always articulate that final “i” in poinsettia. (The latter only annoys me in December, for obvious reasons, while the former example is a year-round irritant.) My interest in language has deep roots. With the blessing – nay, the unbridled! enthusiastic! encouragement! – of my sixth-grade teacher, Sister Michael Mary, I launched the first-ever Vocabulary Club in my parochial elementary school. Despite my most persuasive and endearing, yet completely incomprehensible polysyllabic pitch, very few of my classmates seemed inclined to sign up. Fewer actually became members. In truth, while I did eventually become president of the club, I remained its only member through the end of the school year. It is not only written language that intrigues me. Conversational language does, too. In the five years I spent traveling on business as communications director for a software company, my biggest personal accomplishment was to demonstrate to thousands of people all over the U.S. and Canada that not all people who grew up on Long Island sound like Joey Tribbiani, of the old hit TV show, “Friends.”
I consider myself to be a spiritual person and have spent more than a few sleepless nights pondering profound theological questions. For example, I’ve often wondered why it is that Westerners who embrace the notion of reincarnation are most often under the impression that they were grand personages in at least some of their former lives. You rarely meet one who tells you that he was once an embalmer or a chicken plucker. (Exception: A woman might tell you that she was a courtesan in a former incarnation but never, never a streetwalker.) In one nocturnal flight of imagination, it also occurred to me that a curmudgeonly editor must have deleted a few paragraphs (or even an entire chapter) from the Bible, and that is why more people don’t attribute a sense of humor to God.
In the looks-and-likes department: Some people like to say that they weigh the same today as they did in high school. I can proudly say that I weigh the same today as I did yesterday. Mysteriously, however, I have worn the same bra size since the age of 19, even through multiple pregnancies. If there were occasions when it appeared that I possessed four of the usual two, um, feminine attributes, people were too kind to inform me. Shame on them! Although I enjoy a good Jack Daniel’s Manhattan – heavy on the vermouth, in a delicately stemmed martini glass – I have no desire to balloon to a size requiring purchase of maternity clothes. To that end (and for other sound reasons), I do not overindulge. Finally (and I am ashamed to say this, being of proud Irish stock), I detest hot corned beef. Sliced and plated, it reminds me of a red and wrinkly neck one might see on an elderly, Caucasian Miami Beach vacationer who forgot to slather on his sunscreen that morning. Hide that corned beef between two pieces of rye bread, though, and I’m in heaven!
Random facts? Perhaps! More than anyone wanted to know? Probably! Sometimes, though, trivia is far more interesting than the big picture. If asked to provide a dozen random facts about yourself, what would top your list and what else would you include? Composing such a list is harder than you think, but the results might surprise you. Give it a try.
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