We Are the Fairchilds, Couldn't Be Prouder
When I married Jif, I took my husband's last name, unlike many women in my generation. My maiden name is an ordinary one (in the south), of German derivation. There was nothing wrong with the name, but it always bugged me that it ended in -ie, and since my first name ends in -ie, it was just too too much much -ie -ie, and I looked forward to trying something new.
When most people hear our last name, they think, and sometimes ask, "Is that Italian?" If they see it written, they know it is not. But they don't know what it is. That's because it is the shortened form of a longer, more exotic central European name. I've never seen or heard what the original name was. But if you or I ever did hear that name, I am sure it would call to mind smells of cabbage rolls and images of Pysanky Easter eggs, and maybe the Danube. Not bad, but not me.
If I could choose a last name, just pick my very own, I would want it to be one that would call to mind the smell of honeysuckle and magnolia, the flavor and feel of sipping sweet iced tea on the veranda in the breeze of a evenin'. Ya'll with me? About 12 years ago, my dear beau chose for us just such a name, with the help of a Cracker Barrel hostess.
We were headed to Tennessee (C'mon baby, drive South...with the one you love...) to meet our friends, Shelley and Ed, at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee. We stopped en route at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, as we do when we head south. I don't fry, I don't have a large lard cuisine repertoire, don't do much southern cooking, but we both love the food, so we indulge when we go visiting in those parts. We walked up to the hostess to put our always mispronounced, often misspelled, two-syllable, Americanized Slovakian name on the list. But her southern ears couldn't hear what Jif said. Even after 4 attempts, they couldn't catch it. What she did hear was a four-syllable, Southern pronunciation that was something like, "Fay-uh-chah-uld." And she said, just a little inhospitably, after Jif's fourth attempt, "Yay-us, ah hay-uv it rat heah," and she showed him on the list, right there, big as life, F-A-I-R-C-H-I-L-D. Fairchild. Fairchild. Jif and I looked at each other and knew we'd been born again as Southern aristocracy. Never again would we go in a Cracker Barrel and be shamed by our name. "Yes," says Jif. "Thank you, that's it." And we browsed among the downhome tchotchkes until they called, "Fairchild, party of two."
As we continued on our journey, everywhere we stopped, we were the Fairchilds. And believe you me, we only had to say it once. That there name OPENS DOORS. We met Shelley and Ed in Jonesboro, and had a wonderful time at the storytelling festival. On the last evening there, we had a special dinner at a lovely restaurant called the Parson's Table, probably the fanciest restaurant in the town, housed in what was once the First Christian Church. The meal was exquisite, and as we neared the end of it, we started discussing the next item on our itinerary -- the ghost-story telling, to be held in the dark, in the cold, in the town cemetery. We decided that some big ol' cups of hot-chocolate-to-go would be the perfect accompaniment to sitting on the cold, cold ground hearing spine-chilling stories.
I said to our young waitress, Maggie, "We'd like four very large cups of hot chocolate to take with us, please." That's when the evening took a turn for the weird.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," says Maggie. "We don't serve hot chocolate, and we don't have any to-go cups." And she continued clearing our table.
You don't talk like that to a Fairchild. Didn't she know with whom she was dealing? I decided to find out. "Maggie?" I said in my sweetest condescending aristocrat voice. "Honey, do you know who we are?"
She looked at me for a long moment. "No, ma'am, I don't."
I gave a slight smile and shake of my head to my dinner companions, as if to say, "Let's forgive her, for she knows not what she does."
Then I said to Maggie, "Does the name, 'FAIRCHILD' mean anything to you, dear?"
Maggie took a fraction of a step back, and looked me in the eye, then answered in a small voice, "No, ma'am, it doesn't. But I'm new here. I'm sure the manager would know you." And with that she turned and walked away.
Well, we sat there talking, laughing, waiting for the check. We waited a long time. I started to feel a little bit remorseful. Did I shake her up? Did I frighten her? Oh, here she comes. And she's carrying . . .
"Here's your hot chocolates, Mrs. Fairchild. I'm sorry I didn't know you, like I said, I'm new. My manager sure knows you, and she said sorry about the misunderstanding about the hot chocolates. And she says she hopes ya'll enjoyed your dinner, and will come back and see us again soon. And the hot chocolates are compliments of the house, because of the misunderstanding."
Oh, yea. We've been the Fairchilds in every restaurant, ever since. And on our Christmas cards to Shelley and Ed.