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Thursday, June 1, 2023
June 1, 2023

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Everybody Has a Story: Toddler inventive in finding right word


Most families have examples of one or more children mispronouncing a given name, thus making “Uncle Terwilager” into “Unka Ger.” Sometimes these names stick and a family member gets a permanent nickname. Or a toddler will say something like “busghetti” instead of spaghetti.

Our son, Sam, didn’t seem to have a problem with pronunciation, but sometimes couldn’t remember or didn’t know the proper name of something. He was pretty inventive, though, and was able to get his point across. There are three memorable instances of this from the year he turned 3, when I took off work to stay home with him. That’s when these family favorites occurred.

Sam’s dad traveled a lot during this time for his job. This was before Sept. 11, 2001, and you could meet your party at the airport gate. Our routine was to arrive at the gate early to watch the activity on the tarmac and the planes taking off and landing. Sam loved watching the planes taxiing up to the jet way and the baggage cars whipping around and even the Sky Chefs van elevated to the airplane.

One evening, he had his nose plastered to the window and turned to ask me, “What are those guys down there doing with those flash Popsicles?”

I took a look and explained that the guys with the flash Popsicles were guiding the pilot to the proper parking spot. I didn’t know the proper name for those batons with lighted, orange-red tops, but flash Popsicle seemed appropriate to me! (There are lots of different names, but traffic safety wand and traffic control marshalling wand seem to be common. Who knew?)

Sam was enrolled in a formal preschool one morning a week. One day I picked him up and, as usual, we talked about his morning while on the way home. I asked what he had for a snack and he said, juice and apples and something else, he didn’t know what. We talked about describing this snack, and I could see the concentration on his face in my rearview mirror.

Finally, he announced that he had “crispy fish.” He was so proud to have found a name for his snack, but I couldn’t figure out what he meant. Eventually, I realized he probably had Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers. We had never had them in the house before, so he’d never seen them until preschool. I think “crispy fish” is an apt name and I still use it to describe them.

Another day, we finished lunch and I asked Sam if he’d like some dessert. This question started a household search for the thing he wanted. He knew what he wanted but didn’t know what to call it. His face was screwed up in frustration that he didn’t know what to say and I couldn’t guess.

“You know, that, that, fruit cheese!” The words were emphatic and perfectly clear and I certainly had to be a dummy for not getting the connection. I frantically looked in all the cupboards while suggesting all kinds of things it could be. I looked in the refrigerator with no luck. I went through the pantry. I even went into the garage to look over the assorted groceries we kept there. No luck in any of these places, and the kid’s fuse was getting shorter every minute!

Finally, I pulled open the freezer door and there, at long last, was “fruit cheese,” staring me in the face. I showed it to Sam. His relief was palpable. We were finally communicating on the same plane.

I sighed with relief, opened the pint of tangerine sorbet and dished some out for Sam. We spent some of the afternoon rehearsing the term “sorbet.”

So there it was, orange like cheese but tasting like fruit. The term “fruit cheese” still makes me laugh.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.