When I was in college my roommate, Gloria Tata, called me Magpie. I didn’t understand why at the time, having only associated the word with that of a large, black, squawking bird.
At 5’1” and 90 pounds, fair skinned and red-haired, I didn’t see myself as a crow anymore than I saw her as a Po-Tata, a nickname that sprang to mind but was never uttered because I instantly censored it as knee-jerk, uninspired, and possibly used as a tag to taunt during her school yard years.
Instead I simply changed the inflection and called her Ta-Ta, as if saying “so long” or “goodbye” whenever greeting her.
I first met Gloria one afternoon at the Wayne State University Student Union in Detroit after buying the last piece of pie, cherry, my least favorite, just before a cafeteria worker put out plates of blueberry, my pie of choice. The place was so packed it took a while to find a seat, and when two were finally vacated, Gloria plopped down beside me, each of us spying a preferred pastry on the others tray.
“Trade?” we said, simultaneously. It initiated both our friendship and a series of subsequent exchanges. We liked each other’s winter coats better, so we traded. We like each other’s watches better, so we traded. We even traded boots, bangles, and binoculars – mine being more compact to her large lug-arounds.
At the end of the semester I was ordered to find other lodgings as retribution for missing my 10 o’clock curfew at the dormitory one night and awakening the dorm mother by howling like a desolate dog. It was just as well. I felt suffocated living on a hallway of freshwomen who joined ranks to form instant cliques concentrated on rushing various sororities.
Fortunately, a two room plus bath unit opened up on the third floor of the only independent apartment building left standing on campus that I happened by at the exact moment the superintendent placed a For Rent sign in the lobby window. Knowing I couldn’t afford the place alone, I signed on the dotted line, certain of Gloria’s willingness to join me. She did.
Gloria looked remarkably like Marisa Tomei (who wasn’t born until December of that year so, technically, Tomei would come to look remarkably like Gloria). She was a straightforward, high-spirited girl whose only college aspiration was to find a man to marry – which she did within a matter of months. Never mind that he was a much older, slovenly, heavyset biker. To Gloria he complemented her newly acquired black leather jacket, ankle tattoo, Chantilly perfume and Chiclet gum-smacking act.
I don’t know what happened to Gloria. She left without warning to ride off on biker-boy’s back seat, her long black hair tied with a red bandana and all her belongings stuffed into a brown paper bag. But the memory of her and those two terms of endearment linger still – even though I never met another Ta-Ta, and no one ever called me Magpie again.
Instead, people refer to me with a variety of other monikers. My siblings call me Madge, Marge, Margie, Jill, and Willish. (Jill is my middle name. Willish is a mystery.) My grandma called me Little Marguerite. A fellow in high school called me The Little Red Fox. Different people have called me Megan, Smadge, both Marjorie and Mornigstar (though never together), Missy, McQ, Midgie, Ginger, Rusty, and Blush. Two longtime, older female friends in their 80’s still refer to me as The Kid, and another lady from way back calls me Opal. My sweetheart mostly calls me Pumpkin. And, before she died in 2006, there wasn’t a day gone by that my mom didn’t call me Dolly.
But I’m thinking – maybe Gloria was the one who got it right from the get-go.
magpie : noun
1. a long-tailed crow with boldly marked plumage and a raucous voice.
(It fits, albeit my plumage is red. As for my loud voice, it tends to crow about almost everything.)
2. used in similes to refer to a person who chatters idly.
(So I’m told, and may come to prove, here.)
3. Origin, late 16th century: Middle English nickname for the given name of Marguerite + pie.
That would be me – à la modus operandi.
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