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Pea Soup for the Cynic's Soul

What's In a Name?

Donna Joe reeled from the soft blow her classmate had just given her. Quietly, she endured the child's half-giggling whistling as he ran down the hallway. Donna sighed and moved on.

Growing up was hard enough, but Donna Joe had to grow up with a last name of Smakenwissl. She sat in class all day long, wishing her name was something like Smith or Jones or even Lipschitz -- anything but Smakenwissl. She endured endless thumps on the arm and tuneless, mocking whistling all day long, and she hated every bit of it. Her teachers didn't understand. They'd reprimand other students when they caught them hitting Donna, but they couldn't see everything, couldn't be everywhere.

At home that night Donna was quiet and withdrawn. Her father, who had of course endured the same torture as a child, tried to console her, tried to tell her that life got better after the fourth grade, but his words fell on deaf ears.

While getting ready for bed that night, Donna's father told his wife about their daughter's problems at school.

"I know, honey," his wife Jennifer said. "She's talked to me about it, and I've talked to her teachers. But I just don't know what else we can do."

Jack Smackenwissl nodded and climbed into bed. "I don't know either. I just had to tough it out. And I still get the occasional 'smack and whistle,' even today, from people who have no idea how much ribbing I took over that throughout my life."

Jennifer sighed. "Poor girl. I wish there was something...." She trailed off, lost in thought for a minute as Jack turned out the light.

"Honey, you know your friend, Jason?" she said finally.

"Yes, what about...." Jack too, trailed off.

"And Howard and Joe? Heck, I'm sure they all know others, too!"

" you think it would help? I mean, do you think it would cheer her up?" Jack said, hope filling his heart.

"I'm sure of it honey. I'm just sure of it!"

The next day, Jack went around to his friends and asked a very special favor of them. All of them readily agreed, and even went off to find friends of their own with the same problem. That night, while the family was eating dinner, the doorbell rang.

"Donna," Jack said knowingly, smiling quickly at his wife. "Why don't you see who is at the door?"

Little Donna got up and answered the door. Outside were more than twenty men and women, each smiling brightly.

"Hello, Donna!" the first man said. "I'm Jason Wacispepe. Your Dad told me you're having problems at school -- well, I had much the same problem when I was younger, and let me assure you, life gets better, little girl!"

"Hi Donna! I'm Howard Smakemlowe. I know what it's like to go through life with a strange last name, just like you do. And look at me, I'm a lawyer now! Anybody makes fun of my name now, I sue 'em!"

The list went on and on. It was a veritable parade of strangely named folk, all with an uplifting tale to tell young Donna about the trials and tribulations of their names. Donna stood at the door as they all told their tale and quietly left, her smile growing by the second. Her parents stood in the doorway to the dining room, their smiles just as big.

Finally, Donna shut the door as Karen Tikler left, the last of her father's friends' friends to share her tale of hope.

"Well, honey, do you feel a little better now?" Jack Smakenwissl asked his beaming daughter.

"Yes, Daddy, I do," Donna said, laughing. "Those people all had way stupider names than mine! Wait till I tell my friends! They'll laugh themselves silly!"