When I was pregnant with Keira, an individual who grew up an only child expressed to me bewilderment in trying to imagine life in a big family. I responded that the best thing my parents ever did for me was have all of my brothers and sisters, as they have been my best friends and the most amazing support system.
But that didn't start with my generation. My mom is one of 7, my dad one of 8. And a lot of those people have been a regular part of my life since I was a baby or little girl. They are a network of love and support--not there every day, but readily available when I need them, and a connection to some of the best parts of my life.
Now that my grandmas are gone, I appreciate them even more. We are for each other a living connection to some of the people who loved us most and best.
When I was little, nearly everyone in my life called me "Boo"--it was far more my identity than was "Becky" or "Rebecca". When my mom (who had had multiple 9+ pound babies) first held my little 7 1/2 pound self, she apparently made some "little boo boo" remark, and it stuck. I was Boo, to family and friends, many of my teachers at church, my older sisters' friends, etc. Almost no one calls me that anymore, and no one really has for a decade and a half. Except one uncle. And every time he does, I smile. No matter the specific context, the very use of the name is full of tenderness; its a reminder that this person has known me since I was a small child, watched me grow and change, and still loves me just as much as that quiet, timid little girl who hardly felt safe in the world if she wasn't holding someone's hand. It ties me not just to him, but to the rest of the family who used to call me that, and to the person I was when I was called by that endearment.
Today I was reminded that another uncle still calls me "Becky Sue"; and in that same moment I was suddenly keenly aware that, now that Grandma is gone, he is the only person in the world that does. She was his baby, and he tended to call her grandkids by whatever name she addressed them. Something that I noticed about Grandma was that she rarely called her kids and grandkids by nicknames, even when everyone else did. Ken was always Kenneth. Laura was always Laura Susan. Christa was always Christabel, Gwen was always Gwendolyn (to be fair, it does almost seem a crime to shorten such beautiful names). Except Jim. She named him James, and always called him Jim. And she never called me Rebecca--I can't recall a single time. But I was never Boo to her, either. I was always Becky Sue. She was the only person in my life who ever really used my middle name. Except Jim. Jim was Jim, and I was Becky Sue, and now Grandma is gone, and Jim is the only person in the world who calls me Becky Sue.
I have had many nicknames over the years, but none will ever tie me to my memories and the people I love most, none will ever evoke the same kind of tenderness, that "Boo" and "Becky Sue" do.