My dad has gone by a few nicknames in his day. His name is Sheldon. I reckon when your name is Sheldon and folks bless you with a nickname you sort of do your best to make it stick.
His first and most lasting nickname was Tut (with Tutta being a common variation). He earned this one as a young boy and at 80 I still think more people call him Tut than Shel. He is Uncle Tutta to all of my cousins. Tut, apparently, came about because, as the eighth of nine children and the youngest boy, some of his siblings believed he was treated like a young king. This always amused me, because his youth coincided with the Great Depression. He and his eight siblings lived in a small two bedroom house on a hill with their parents. His parents shared a room, his five sisters shared a room, and the four brothers shared one bed in the attic. Oranges for Christmas and glad of it, the whole nine yards. When he told me stories of his youth I failed to see anything kingly about it. His older siblings perceived it differently. It’s all about perspective. And Sheldon became Tut.
Now Tut may have been first. And it may have had the most staying power. But Dad had another nickname in my camping youth. He was known, among our camping friends and family, as The Sarge.
The Sarge was born in the woods on a hiking trail.
The exact location is unimportant.
The Sarge transcended geography.
The Sarge thought five year old little girls should be able to make five, six, even seven mile hikes with nothing but a canteen of water for sustenance (and they’d have to carry those themselves). Rest breaks were for the weak. If it was a destination hike – hiking to a waterfall or some other manner of scenic vista, a brief break was permitted for photographing and appreciating the scene. Photography, of course, was contingent upon us carrying our own cameras. We couldn’t linger long enough to make us soft, though.
My mother would remind him, upon embarking upon one of these hikes, that my sister and I were LITTLE. He would assure her very matter-of-factly: “They’ll be fine.”
And we were.
If we got tired and asked for a break, he’d assure us that we could take one when we got around the next bend. We never seemed to get around that bend.
And we never whined.
We were fine.
The Sarge said so.
Because of The Sarge’s refusal to treat us like delicate pink things we were able to witness so much beauty that many never see. As a matter of fact, a recent conversation with my parents as well as the recent PBS series on our National Parks revealed that many of the places we hiked and climbed to are now off-limits to tourists. (I’m pretty sure that wasn’t our fault.)
Years later, when my sister and I were in our teens, The Sarge decided he wanted to walk a few miles down the beach to check out another campground. I eagerly said I wanted to go. A walking tan is way more even than a lying tan and walking a couple miles in the sand was like a free pedicure. Chafing? Wasn’t in my personal lexicon at that time.
The friends we were with weren’t so sure. Their daughter was still so LITTLE. Surely she would get too tired to finish such a long walk. The Sarge teased that there would be Nutty Buddies at the other campground, and that it would be his treat. Their daughter was IN! Her parents still expressed concern.
“She’ll be fine.”
And she was.
She enjoyed that Nutty Buddy with a gusto usually reserved for an oasis in the middle of the desert. It gave her the energy she needed for the walk back.
And she never whined.
She was fine.
The Sarge said so.