Knowing how much fun it can be, I asked my 8-year-old in the back of the minivan, “How do you spell Mississippi?” She hollers out in a single breath with a lilting rhythm, “M, I, S, S, I, S, S, I, P, P, I!”
My 3-year-old, mimics, “I, P, P, I!” “I, P, P, I!”
There are 50 states in the United States and four of them begin with the letter “I.” I live in Illinois. I take a lot of road trips to Indiana. I’ve never been to Idaho. Today I am in Iowa.
Although I currently live in an “I” state, I was born in an “M” state and then we moved to a “V” state. There was a boy who rode the bus with me to school each day, his name was Morton Vennibal Whitlow. We called him MV.
MV’s dad was a CPA. I am a CPA. MV’s father had his own accounting practice with a freestanding office just outside the Downtown tunnel. The Downtown Tunnel took me underneath the Elizabeth River on my way from Portsmouth to Norfolk, and then back again, to and from school each day.
In high school, my best friend’s name was Elizabeth. Elizabeth lived in Old Town, near the river, in an old Southern row house with a double parlor, an outdated kitchen and a third floor all to herself.
She was the youngest of three by a considerable margin; her siblings had long since moved out. Her house was a quiet, grown-up house with portraits above the piano and parlors nobody used. A house where two high school girls were left alone on the third floor to laugh and giggle and think about prom.
I wore one of my grandmother’s dresses to my high school prom. It was a pink and purple thing, with a fitted bodice and a huge poufy skirt, with layers and layers of pink tulle covered in purple lace. For a 17-year old girl all, that pink pouf and purple lace was just the thing, but really, what era made such things fashionable for a 40-year old woman?
My grandmother was born just outside Butler, Pennsylvania. Her family was Scottish and had been for the 300 years they lived in Pennsylvania. She went to school in a one-room school house and said that most of the students were immigrants. She said there were too many boys and that’s how you knew a war was coming.
One of my grandmother’s favorite stories is about a boy in her class. She will tell you there was a boy in her class with a name she’ll never forget, Agamemnon DonGeorgieopoulous. How, she will tell you, and her eyes start to twinkle, do you ever forget a name like that! And then she laughs to remember and you laugh with her, every time.
Another boy in her class was named Orin Eaken. He was the neighbor’s boy. One day he wasn’t feeling well, so the teacher told one of his classmates, “Jean, you go on and walk Orrie home now.” The next day he was dead.
Pennsylvania, polio, both begin with “P.”
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.