A reader recently addressed an e-mail to me using the personal nicknames he’d recalled from the columns in my book “No Small Miracles.”
He called me “Chappy” in the same way a Navy friend always did. He called me Ed after a story I wrote about my aborted attempt to go by my middle name. He also called me “Bible Stud,” but you’ll have to buy the book to figure that one out.
Today, I continue with the “You-never-call-me-by-my-name” saga.
When my wife and I married in the early ’80s, she took to calling me “Shadow.” At first I thought it was a compliment — a reference to the tall, dark and handsome 6-foot-2 crane that towered above her 5-foot-3 petite frame.
Turns out it wasn’t so complimentary. As shocking as this is to the people who know Becky, she had stooped to sarcasm.
I guess I deserved the sarcasm. I was a bit on the smothering side of the relationship — a real helicopter husband hovering over her every move. Of course that was easy to do in our first “house” — a 17-foot travel trailer. It also was easy in our next house, a 500-square-foot seminary apartment.
But by the time we moved into our third house — a 1,300-square-foot parsonage — she added the nickname “Puppy” to her collection.
“Don’t you have someplace to be?” she’d ask me as I stood behind her at the kitchen sink. “After all, Pastor Norris, it’s Saturday night. It seems like you’d want to be practicing your sermon.”
I wasn’t dense. I was starting to see a pattern.
If it’s true girls mature faster than boys — that’s not an “if” like in the sentence, “If I become Mike Huckabee’s campaign press secretary”; it’s more like, “If the sun rises tomorrow” — my bride had matured much faster than I. She had mastered the art of being alone.
Being alone with oneself is an art, and as far as relational art went, I still was finger-painting.
The scariest thing about being alone with me was listening to the comments I’d tell myself. They were comments like, “She’s not going to stay with you,” and, “She’s going to find out who you really are.”
As I look back on those days, I think “Shadow” was a good nickname. It feels like I was likely shadowing her to make sure she still was there. It was hard enough to believe anyone had loved me enough to marry me, but it was particularly hard to believe she loved me enough to stay with me.
I wasn’t following her in the same way a jealous husband would. I was checking on Becky in much the same way I would constantly check on the dollar my grandmother gave me for my childhood birthdays. Somewhere between my house and the 7-Eleven store, I’d plunge my hands into my jeans pockets a hundred times because I was so astounded with my grandmother’s generosity.
Becky also was a gift — no, not from my grandmother, but from God. And like my grandmother’s gift, I found myself constantly astounded with God’s generosity. I followed her because I wanted to see her, touch her, and know what we had together was real.
This year, after 28 years of marriage, I’m happy to report two things.
First, I’m still constantly astounded with God’s generosity toward both of us.
But most of all I’m happy to report that as I’m typing this column, the situation seems to have reversed itself — she now hovers over me.
Oh — I think she wants me to take out the kitchen trash.
Happy anniversary, sweetheart!