Monday, December 20, 2010

What's in a Name, OR Who's Clarence?

December 20, 2010

In honor of my brother, who is celebrating his birthday today:

Every younger brother suffers the whims of their older siblings now and again growing up. Usually, it's just light-hearted amusement to alleviate boredom. Our family was no different, in that on occasion when we were too bored to watch t.v. and we didn't want to read anymore and there were no good songs on the radio, we turned to our younger brother to entertain us. We weren't mean, my sister and I--we weren't into embarrassing him or making him cry. We just wanted to pass the time.

Take for example the day we changed his name, just for fun. Lisa and I were in early high school and junior high, respectively, and Scott was in elementary school. Our schools got out before the elementary school, so Lisa and I were home before anyone else. Home alone, and bored. What to do, what to do.... I'm not sure what made us think of it, but we suddenly decided it would be funny to see if we could get Scott start answering to another name. We picked one at random--Clarence. I have no idea why we settled on Clarence; perhaps it was because we didn't know anyone with that name. It sounded like a little old man's name, one who wore a Sunday hat and walked with a cane. Definitely NOT my little brother.

We heard the door handle jiggling. It was showtime. Scott walked in the door, and we greeted him with, "Hey Clarence! How was school today?"

Nothing. He walked past us, completely unaware that we were talking to him. He went into the bedroom to put away his backpack, and Lisa and I collapsed in a giggling fit.

Later, he'd sat himself down in front of the television set. Lisa walked into the room. "Hey Clarence--what are you watching?" Scott turned his head and glanced curiously at her, but did not respond. Throughout the afternoon we continued to address him that way, and continued to be greeted with silence or perplexed expressions.

At dinnertime: "Hey Clarence! Mom says it's time to come to the table."

"Why are you calling me that?"

"What do you mean? Mom said it's time to come to dinner."

He paused for a few minutes, shrugged, and just said, "Okay." He had given up trying to figure us out, and decided to just go with it. (It's a well-known fact that teenaged girls are typically the most unpredictable and puzzling creatures. He somehow intuitively knew that there was just no rational explanation, and that his best possible course of action was just to go along with it. Kind of like training ground for adult men who have realized that sometimes it's best to just nod their heads and say, "Yes, Dear.")

That night, when it was time for bed, I said to him, "Clarence, Mom said to go brush your teeth and get your jammies on." Without missing a beat, he looked at me and said okay and headed to the bathroom. The transformation was complete--Scott was now Clarence.

Who knew all those years ago that Clarence would become more than a way to alleviate boredom on a single adolescent afternoon. We kept it up, the next day, and the next. It became a term of endearment. Mom started calling him Clarence, too, and then our youngest sister. We addressed birthday and Christmas cards to Clarence over the years, and eventually close friends of the family started calling him Clarence, too. Nobody really knew why he was Clarence, but eventually they always asked. The answer? No reason. No reason at all. And yet he was--IS--Clarence, just the same. And to this day, Lisa and I both still probably call him Clarence with far more regularity than Scott. He's our Clarence, and he always will be, just because.

Happy birthday, Clarence. We love you!


  1. Scott, er, Clarence was an accommodating young guy. You and your sister lucked out when you were given him as a little brother. Happy Birthday, Clarence!

  2. That is so cute. I love the name Clarence. That's my grand kid's, proud of them.I will never forget first time i visited them in calif. Their mpther had picked me up at the airport. i walked in to a bedroom and there they all were listening to the radio trying to see if they could be the first one's to call in for a contest. My first thought they were playing to gather with love instead of fussing and fighting.

  3. Clarence is just silently plotting his revenge...