Notta and Four-letter words, Part II


About That

Notta and Four-Letter Words*


[Note: in the days after posting the previous discussion, a commotion has arisen via some news outlets about the language used at last weekend’s CPAC bacchanal. I would be remiss, and my children would yell at me, if I didn’t suggest to orange-faced man (who nattered on with all the maturity and insight of a particularly dull preteen) that, rather than swear, he should heed my mantra: “Read a book! Get a vocabulary!” Needless to say, the first will likely never happen. It seems to be a point of pride that he does not read books. However, the world could well be a better place if he could develop a vocabulary with less use of ‘I’ and ‘me.’ Ah well, that, too, is also unlikely.]

“I’ve got another four-letter word,” Notta announced. The last of our morning’s students had tripped off after the rest of the group to grab a cigarette before heading home.

“There are quite a few out there,” I said. My head was still spinning with deciphering quadratic equations with New Beard, who was one test away from earning his high school equivalency. As I keep saying, I’m an English teacher. Quadratic equations are not my shtick.

“I’m not talking about those words,” Notta said. “I mean, the words that are normal, but make you feel bad.”

“Badly,” I said without thinking. “Sorry. Habit. What word were you thinking of? Notta grinned. “Should that be ‘Of what word were you thinking?’”

“Touché. What’s the word?”


“Pack? Is it time for your family’s Easter reunion in Ohio already?”

“Hardly. Lent’s starting this week. There’s a few weeks yet.”


Notta settled into one of the chairs across the conference table from me. “Goes back to that talk we had about spring cleaning. You know, you clean things out, pack up the winter clothes and so on.”

“And a lot of people move in the spring.”

She groaned. “Don’t say it. ‘Move’ is another four-letter word in my book.”

“The two are kind of related. How many times have you and your husband moved?”

She thought for a moment. “In 40 years of marriage, we’re coming up on 20 times.”

I frowned. “Coming up? Are you trying to tell me you’re moving again?”

“Oh God, no!” She laughed. “Told the old man the only way he’d get me out of our house here is feet first. I used the wrong expression. No, we’re staying put, but there are more reasons to have to pack.”

“You still go out to visit your parents a lot.”

“Well, they can’t come to me anymore. And then there’s the kids.” Notta’s offspring could well be said to have scattered to the four winds. Well, three winds.

“They don’t come to see you?”

Notta shrugged. “It’s distance, I guess. Plus they’re working and they have their own lives and friends, and so on. I call them once in a while, to remind them that we’re still around.”

“Add a little guilt to the mix?” I asked with and wink.

“Isn’t that a Jewish thing? Guilt?” She grinned back.

I nodded. “The Jewish guilt gland. Located near the stomach and can be assuaged with a nice kugel or a shisleleh zup.” Notta did not understand, or so her eyes told me. “Food. The guilt can be assuaged if you let your mother feed you.” She laughed.

“We do guilt, too,” she said. “Actually, it’s more to do with shame. Original sin, Adam and Eve, and all that.”

“So your guilt gland is located a bit lower in the human torso.”

She laughed again, then said, “You might want to be careful who you say that to. Some people might take offense.”

“Some people take offense if you wish them a good morning.” I stacked up the leftover student packets. “Or if you tell them they have to pack.”

Notta took the stack from me. She walked before me back to the office. “Back on track, like a good teacher, aren’t you?”

“What’s so bad about packing?” I asked, settling down at my computer to make notes on each student’s progress.

Notta set the papers aside and found her favorite groaning chair. “Well, I have to think more than a few minutes ahead. I have to plan, make sure I have enough underwear and clothes and everything else for the number of days I will be gone. I’ll be out of my own place, and won’t have everything whether I need it right away or not. It’s not something I like to think about.”

“You have to get out of your comfort zone,” I suggested.

She made a sour face. “There’s a cliché for you. I’d rather say ‘rut’ because I always come back with the sort of revelation that maybe, just maybe I don’t need all that stuff sitting around on the odd chance I might want it. Maybe I have more than enough. And I start cleaning. I always start cleaning when I come back from a trip. My husband thinks I’m crazy because I clean and then make another rut. I’ll gum things up, overcrowd the house with stuff and let it go until I travel again.” She shook her head. “It’s a vicious circle.”

“Another interesting expression,” I said. “I wonder if Archimedes ever considered his circles vicious.” I felt the Notta Louden glare on me. “What’s harder about packing? Thinking about it or doing it?”

Notta shrugged. “Thinking. That’s always the worst of anything: the anticipation and supposing I know what’s going to be involved. The doing isn’t half so bad.

I nodded. “And there’s another side to packing.”

“Oh?” A challenge in one syllable.

“When I pack to move things or clean out things, or, G-d forbid, to move, I always find things I’d thought lost or simply forgotten. It’s like a treasure hunt of mementos and pictures and moments associated with this dish or that book.”

“I can tell you’re a real speed demon when you pack to move,” Notta said. She was sarcastic, but not wrong.

“I linger,” I admitted. “But I can also let go.” I turned my head to smile at her. “Speaking of husbands who doubt our sanity, mine said he had a few psychiatrists’ numbers when I insisted it was a good idea to pack up the house every few months. We wouldn’t be moving, we’d be treasure hunting and weeding out things to let go.” I sighed. “It never worked while the kids were home, but these days, I still think about hauling out the moving boxes. Test my theory.”

“I’ll keep the shrinks’ numbers handy if you ever do it,” Notta offered. She watched me complete my notes. “So, P-A-C-K is like all the other four-letter words. It’s the thought that offends.”

“Words are words,” I said.

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