Terms of Endearment


We were sitting across the table from each other when I raised my hand to point to the morning newspaper placed in front of him. He appeared to be finished perusing it, so I said, "Honey, can you pass me that?"

My query was as familiar as if we were an old married couple sharing Cream of Wheat and prune juice with the papers. But this was no mate I was addressing, just a guy who is part of our breakfast group.

He looked up, hesitated briefly, and then without a word, pushed the edition to me. No one else at the table of six friends paused in their conversations, so I assumed they didn't hear my appeal, or were all familiar with my terms of endearments. Because they are readers of my blog posts, they have witnessed my language shifting to profane. Now we are dealing with my recent habit of using pet names that I've come to call, Diner Waitress Slang.

You see lately, everyone who crosses my path becomes a Honey or a Sweetheart. It's not that I don't know the actual names of my sudden objects of affection; it's simply that these expressions of sweet familiarity fly out of my mouth like balls lobbed across a tennis court.

For example, I definitely know that George is the chief super in my building. But today, when he asked, "How's everything going?" I returned with, "Just great, Sweetheart."

Oh, I do it with innocent strangers, too: cashiers, Lyft drivers, waiters, bus companions, people blocking my way -- all are addressed as Honey or Sweetheart. And in some cases, when the object of my soon-to-be affection is even wearing a helpful nametag, I ignore the hint and speed to Diner Waitress mode.

Surprisingly, no one has taken umbrage at my instant intimacy. Perhaps they see my gray hair, and as deference to my dotage, give me a pass?

To trace this habit of endearments, I need only to look at the nicknames my family had used. My second husband, Tommy, and I certainly used Honey and Sweetheart, but more often called each other Hubber and Wifey. And our two dogs, who had actual names of Sasha and Buddy, each became The Pooker when we talked about them.

And with my first spouse, who often called me Mother, as in "Mother, do you really need to eat that extra slice of cake?" I used Honey for them back then, and although divorced for nearly three decades, that's the name I still use in our chats.

My grown-up daughters still have to endure the diminutive "y" added to their names. Surprisingly, Faithy and Jilly haven't objected.

Perhaps it's part of that giving-deference bit, or gratitude that their elderly mum still remembers the names preserved on birth certificates; so they figure the juvenile tag is harmless.

Of course, no essay about my current habit would be complete without a rewind to childhood. Sadly, I never remember hearing my parents call each other anything except Min and Irv. (Well, since their given names were Minnie and Irving, perhaps those shortenings could be considered nicknames. Let's give them that.) My brother Ronald became Ronnie, but I was always Elaine, except for the times my dad called me his Princess.

As long as we've trod all the way back to the 1940's, let's look at our foursome on Division Street when we lived in a three-room flat above Irv's Finer Foods, our corner grocery store. How is it I can see both places so clearly, as if I slid open a door, and there it would all be, frozen in time?

Is it because my parents battled, rather than romanced, that I, now older than any age either got to be, now glide so easily into affection? If I had heard Honey or Sweetheart between these two departed antagonists back when I was a wee one, would I instead now remove my current sugar coating and call folks by their given names?

In other words, have I inadvertently decided that my Diner Waitress Slang is just a gentler way of moving through the world? And aren't these terms of endearment more gender neutral when addressing someone whose preference of He, She, or They are unknown to me? Maybe I shouldn't worry that the recipient of a blurted Honey or Sweetheart takes offense?

And maybe the fellow at the breakfast table - my age and spouseless -- heard my simple request for the newspaper, and instead of being surprised or displeased at my cheekiness, languished a bit in its remembered comfort.





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