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What Was In A Name?
by Lori Dickey

In 1972, in the fourth grade, I did not think about my name much—Catherine Reidt—it seemed fine to me. Besides singing “The Name Game” in music class and occasionally teasing a kid with an obviously odd name, like the boy named “Neafiey” or the girl with the last name “Woodchuck,” names were not very important to an elementary school kid. After all, what was in a name? My name did not contain information about who I really was or what my best friend, Jackie Goldstein,
thought about me.
     Her parents, on the other hand, proved to have a very different opinion.
Jackie and I did everything together at school, and although Mrs. Clock usually did not allow friends to sit within a paper airplane’s soaring reach, she seemed to realize that Jackie and I brought out the best in each other and allowed us the special privilege of sitting in the same group. Jackie was a pretty girl, a little stockier and shorter than me—although, everyone seemed to be. I was called the class “string-bean”—tall and skinny. She had beautiful, curly, black hair that I envied, especially when my “carrot-top” looked so stringy after gym class. Her bright blue eyes resembled the sky on a clear day. I liked my eyes though; they were big and brown, like a sad Cocker Spaniel’s. Jackie told me they were difficult to resist when I wanted something. She and her big “pumpkin smile” had no problem cheering me up, even on the dreariest days.
     Together, Jackie and I enjoyed many of the same things. School was fairly easy for both of us; we were good students and favored the same subjects. We would dream, during geography class, of visiting other lands and the interesting people we would meet. Our history class did not include much more than reading about the Pilgrims and Indians and studying current events, but often times, we—unknowingly—chose the same newspaper article to bring in for our oral report. On Thanksgiving, although, Jackie always wanted to be the Indian donning the fancy feathered headdress while I just had to be a Pilgrim wearing a fancy, ruffled, white collar and buckles on my shoes. We both loved to draw—especially cartoon figures. At recess, we brought our baseball cards and compared our collections (we knew more about the sport than most of the boys did). Our personalities were much the same, as well; we stood up for what was right and did not like to see anyone needlessly “picked on.” During the holidays, her parents invited me to their home to get to know the “Catherine” that Jackie spoke of so frequently.
     The Goldstein family had a cute, little, one-story house in a nice neighborhood. Jackie did not have to live with her grandparents and great-grandmother as my mom, younger brother, and I did. She lived with her dad, mom, and one older brother. They all gathered together in the kitchen when it was time for dinner. Each family member had a special job to do; setting the table was like an assembly line. Devout Jews had special dishes for certain things. I received a cold stare when I requested milk to drink with my dinner. I did not understand—it was the only thing I usually drank at home with any meal. Then again, meals at my house were kind of a “free for all.”
     I had known that Jackie’s culture was different from mine. After all, she did not go to Catholic school on Wednesdays, as I did; she would come in to class chanting Hebrew folk songs. I liked that about her. She even taught me how to play a dreidel game once. We played every day for a week on the school playground during recess. I even won a few times! She wore a “Star of David” around her neck; I wore a crucifix, but she was my best friend.
     That evening, however, was different. When her father asked me for my full name, I felt as if I had been summoned to the principal’s office without cause. “Catherine Sandra Reidt,” I told him. He looked at Jackie’s mom as if he knew something about me that I did not. Dinner was very quiet after that; even Jackie did not say much. I hoped I had not used the wrong fork or forgotten and put my elbows on the table or something. “That’s a German name, right?” he asked, almost ten minutes later. “Yes,” I told him. I did not know what else to say; I lived with my French speaking relatives since my parents divorced. Was Jackie’s father a language major? I could probably rattle off a phrase in French if he wanted to hear words other than English or Hebrew at the dinner table, but something told me to keep my mouth shut after that, except for eating. The lox and matzo balls, that Jackie spoke of often, were different from my grandmother’s baked ham and homemade sour dough bread, but tasty. Mom came to pick me up shortly after dinner. Jackie and I said our good-byes, but—suddenly—I felt we were as different as “The Frog and Toad” in our reading book we read in Mrs. Clock’s class.
     The next day at school, things had changed. My teacher had moved our desks around—I was now to the far right of the room and Jackie to the far left. My sad puppy dog eyes could not reach her now. During recess, she had no big “pumpkin smile” to instantly cheer me up on that dreary day. My teacher sympathetically suggested that I play dodge ball with some of the other girls. Mrs. Clock sadly shook her head as she walked off—somehow, I knew it was not she that wanted Jackie and me to be separated.
     That evening, I lay in bed with tears in my eyes unable to fathom why I had just lost my best friend, Jackie Goldstein. My 9-year old mind did not understand the term “Anti-Semitism” or the horror that Hitler had inflicted on so many families, leaving fearful memories for generations to come—in the name of his one “superior race.” I eventually realized it had nothing to do with using the wrong fork or placing my elbows on the table. It was what was in our names.
     In 1940, Neville Chamberlain summed up his feelings for the harsh Nazi ruler in a speech to the House of Commons where he simply stated, “Hitler has missed the bus.” However, the aftermath of his tyrannical ways sent a bitter chill throughout the yellow school bus on that cold December morning in 1972.

--Lori Dickey