The other day my five-year old told me, “The fridge is like an ice box.”
For a moment I was disoriented, almost dizzy with flooding memories because “ice box” is the term my mother grew up using for “refrigerator”. I looked at my daughter and she must have wondered why I looked as if I was questioning her identity. It was as if, for a moment, she had become my mom, very small and curly-headed, and about 70 years too late.
My mom grew up saying “ice box” because her parents said “ice box”. I suppose they might have even had ice boxes where they grew up in Scotland.
Habits of course, die hard, so Mom, as an adult, said “ice box” which meant that I, in turn, grew up saying “ice box”. I don’t remember all the specifics of the moment I first got a weird look for saying “ice box” but I do remember the confused emotions. Some kid looked at me strangely and questioned my term and I, blushing, corrected myself and said, “refrigerator” and from there on out, I tried hard to use the correct term whenever it came up in youthful conversation, which, thankfully, wasn’t too often.
I didn’t want to stand out for being different at that point in my life.
There was one other time (that I can remember right now, there might have been more) that my peers questioned me about my word choice. Well, really, it was pronunciation in this case.
Like I said, my grandparents came over from Scotland and there, as everywhere in the British Isles, they pronounce “been” to rhyme with “bean”, not “bin”. “Been” pronounced as “bin” is American. (Help me out, Canadian readers – I think you say “been” like “bean” too, yes?)
So, since Mom’s parents said “been/bean”, just like with “ice box”, Mom said it and so did I.
I remember having gym class outside one day when I was somewhere in upper elementary. We were playing baseball and while we waited for our turn to bat, we were chatting. At some point in the conversation I used the word “been” and a classmate questioned my pronunciation.
“Why do you always say ‘bean’ instead of ‘bin’?” this pleasant peer of mine asked.
I remember thinking that I’d never really noticed it before – both pronunciations were right to my ears and, like a person who easily speaks more than one language, both came naturally out of my mouth. Muttering something about Scotland and Mom, I turned away – hoping, for the first time in my life, that I would soon be up to bat so I could get out of this awkward conversation.
But, at the same time, I remember thinking that I liked that I said “been/bean” – I liked that I had a good story to back up my reasoning, and I liked being different.
I was growing up.
Flash forward about 30 years.
My daughter came home from school one day in second grade, hurt and puzzled and frustrated. “Mom, the para (para-professional / teacher’s assistant) told me today that I say ‘been’ wrong. I don’t say it wrong!”
I can’t remember if she was crying, but she was clearly upset.
I took her into my arms and hugged her tight, all the time smiling, all the time commiserating, all the time aching for the days of childhood she has yet to face, the big things and the little things that feel big.
Like being corrected for one’s pronunciation of “been”.
I told her about my experience. And I told her to tell that para, “I pronounce it like they do in Scotland, which is where my great grandparents came from and how they pronounced it, and how my Grandma pronounces it and how Mom pronounces it and it’s how I pronounce it and that’s okay.”
Imagine how dull a truly homogenous society would be?
Though, I admit, I don’t say “ice box” anymore.
But I still say “bean” and I always will.