Thursday, July 14, 2011

Meet Newton

I've been ruminating over names of late. My own, for instance. We just hired a wonderful new staff member where I work, but he too is a Steve. At 54, I am now back to where I was in first grade: one of three Steves in the room.

This has led me to consider what else I might be called, but boy, is that a minefield. Folks get used to a handle for you, and they are not so inclined to let it go. I can see this will take some more thought. But if you do think about it, the reason we name anything or anyone is to distinguish it or them from all the others, right?

So when several things or persons are all called by the same name, isn't the purpose defeated? I'm beginning to feel like I live in an episode of the Newhart TV show in which one brother introduces himself and his two brothers as: "Hi, I'm Larry; this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl." If you don't remember the show, that line won't be funny, but trust me, back in the day, it was priceless. And since in the labor movement we call one another brother or sister--at least I still do--I now can say "Hi, I'm Steve; this is my brother Steve, and this is my other brother Steve."

Now don't get me wrong. The name Steve is not so bad in and of itself. The common name Steve originates from the first martyr, a man of conviction who suffered death by stoning for that conviction. Stoning isn't so cool, but that he stood up for his belief isn't a bad thing for which to be named. It's just that among men of a certain age, Steve is a pretty common name. But then perhaps that's just my current midlife crisis kicking in.

But while I wrastle with my own similarity syndrome, I am now prepared to announce another naming: my Pereira bicycle that I will ride from Paris, and hopefully back thereto, is now officially hereby to be known as...Newton. I chose Newton because it is both a family name and an evocative food I lo-ove.

My mother's great grandfather (I think I have this right) and his father before him, were both Isaac Newton McDowell. One of them was a Civil War veteran for the Union Army. I have more details, but not at hand right now. That's pretty cool, and Isaac Newton was obviously a character of considerable achievement and conviction as well. Solid name for a bicycle. Timely for the Civil War Sesquicentennial as well, given my Civil War veteran pedigree.

But when it comes to cookies, I sure do love me Fig Newtons. One time, when my cousin-brother Jeffie (as I then called him) was sleeping over at our house, we had a Fig Newton Eating Contest. Nay, make that a Fig Newton Stuffing Contest because the idea was to see how many Newtons we could stuff into our mouths at one time.

Jeffie today. Bet he'd like a Fig Newton about now.

Jeffie's house and our house were separated only by our grandparents' house, and we had plenty of sleepovers. The night of our Contest, we were left to our own devices. I think my Mum might have been home, but asleep or somehow not present. I just remember that the more we stuffed those Newtons into our mouths while trying to maintain quiet, the funnier it became. I have this vivid mental image of stuffing 10 Newtons into my mouth angling for the "winning" amount, and seeing Jeffie equally stuffed and both of us gagging and spewing Newton crumbs all over the kitchen as we sat on that cool linoleum floor and we laughed and laughed and suppressed laughs and spewed some more and laughed harder still. Maybe the hardest I have laughed in all my life.

For a long while, I don't think I did Newtons at all. I had OD'd. But now, I'm back to loving their sweet fruity smell, their cakey-gritty texture, and their satisfying stomach-filling sensation. I love me Newtons.

So Newton it is.

Oh, and I became Steve because I was (and am still) a boy. I was Steven Robert. But if I had been a girl (there were no ultrasounding prognostications of gender back then), I'd be Roberta Stephanie now. My parents told my older brother and sister they could name me, and my gender would determine which of their name selections would win. One wanted Steve or Stephanie and the other wanted Robert or Roberta. The naming contest "loser" got to choose my middle name. Pretty ingenious, right?

And now, all these Fig Newtons later, I'm thinking about a name change to differentiate myself from my workmates. One possibility that I've come upon is perhaps a throwback to those Newton-stuffing/Newton-spewing times on the kitchen floor, back when Jeffie and Stevie roamed the backyard baseball/football field and the woods out back and the world was reduced to a long, lazy Summer afternoon turning into dusk and blinking lightning bugs and skittering bats.

"Hey Jeffie, waddya wanna do", I'd ask in the middle of a sumptuously boring and sweltering day or an achingly languorous evening. "I dunno, Stevie, waddyou wanna do?", he'd retort. And we'd look at each other and grin (Jeffie shining his big dimples and maybe with a new lost tooth), and off we'd go to this or that mischief place where our parents weren't and we'd get into some paint we weren't supposed to get into or play an old game of Army or make up a new game or hike up into the woods so that we should see what we shall see or....

So, yes, if you're conspiring toward playful mischief and you want me in, you can call me Stevie.

Wow, that's spooky! I just remembered that I had posted a picture of Fig Newtons in my Gilles Berthoud front handlebar bag in a previous post, so I thought I'd re-post it here, above. So guess what? The date of that post was exactly one year ago today: July 14, 2010. It was a post about my first climbing up to Mount Rainier. One year to the day. Gives me chills it's so uncanny!

OK, Newton my trusty steed, now that you've been properly named and introduced you're more than simple transportation; you're my companion with your own personality. Take me to the wilds of France, Newton, so that we shall see what we shall see!

Keep it yummy and mischievous,



  1. Fabulous post! Well, it's true that we all get attached to the names of the people we love but it is also true that what we really love is the people underneath the names. The name just becomes representational. So if that person we really love definitively said he wanted to change his name, i can tell you that I for one would say "Tell me when!" Now, there are some limits. I know you love the names Herbert and Mortimer and I am sure they have long lineages of meaning for you, but I think those would be tougher for me. Mainly because those names signify the past, and you are so much about the present and the future! Newton, on the other hand, is a brilliant name for your intrepid bicycle and it seems even more perfect to me because Newton was indeed an explorer and a curious one at that. So, Stevie and Newton, ride on joyfully! We know you will travel those many roads--in your heart, minds and on the roads. Much love, DartreDame

  2. Well sure! And if you are ever for some reason in doubt about gravity you can just stop peddaling for a bit and ....Newton will let you know!

  3. Right on!! Looking forward to seeing you and Newton in France :).