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Wednesday, June 26 News

In Other Words / The curse of the Judy

Judy’s are still going strong. They spill out everywhere. And therein lies the problem: I gave up Judy years ago, and, yet am haunted by those who feel compelled to call me by that name.

Walking that fine line between adolescence and adulthood, I teetered on the edge of being an authority on everything, while still feeling wobbly and off-balance. To say I was confused is an understatement. But inside me the first rumbles of change were apparent. I felt sophisticated and womanly —a Judith inside a Judy body. I could no longer accept a name that signified all that I loathed like “cute” and “perky.”

I was born at a time when Judys inhabited the world. It was practically a cult. Judys had glaring flaws: buck teeth, an overabundance of freckles and a proclivity toward uncontrollable giggling fits. They had friends named Barbara (Bobbie), Linda (Linnie), Susan (Suzy) and Jane (Janie). No one I knew was ever called by her given name except for Wendy, the prettiest girl in the class whom no one would dare to address otherwise.

Wendy moved through puberty with an air of confidence and intrigue. She was an idol to one such as I, a mere Judy, who bit her nails and couldn’t get her hair to hang straight. My name conjured up Saturday afternoons at the movies, the girl next door, the infuriating brat, who always got caught chewing gum in class. Wendy was tall, lithe and beautiful. She had straight teeth, long blonde hair and legs that never quit. Even at thirteen, she had blemish-free skin and face that prompted attention.

“Wendy has a peaches and cream complexion,” my mother liked reminding me. “If you stop eating sweets, you can look like Wendy, too.”

Judys had pimples. We never went anywhere without our Clearasil. We wore braces with mini-rubber bands we loved to snap. Our mothers were always anticipating minor disasters. They programmed us to be careful lest some misfortune befall us when we least expected it. We were told we had potential if we would only try harder.

Wendy had already reached her potential when I was still tripping over myself. So much a Judy was I that for a while I spelled my name with an “ie instead of “y” with tiny hearts over the “i.”

It was always Wendy who made the cheerleading team, had three boyfriends simultaneously and could devour a plate of brownies without gaining a pound. Judys had fittings with orthodontists. Wendys had fitting with dressmakers. Judys went on diets. Wendys went on vacations. It was apparent: I would never amount to much unless I shed my “Judy” image.

And then it all changed. I grew into myself and emerged triumphant. The year I turned eighteen, I abandoned Judy, which I marked as my official entry into adulthood. I vowed to become a Judith, a name of distinction that announced to the world I had arrived. I insisted that the inscription on my cake read: “Happy Birthday Judith.” I figured anything scrolled in butter cream had to be legit.

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But once a Judy always a Judy. It was branded on me from birth. For a long time no one accepted my newly acquired title. And so, I was forced to go around constantly correcting them. “I’m not a Judy any more,” I said. “I’m now a Judith.” But, those who had watched me grow up were not about to abandon the Judy ship midstream.

When I went off to college, new possibilities loomed ahead. I was determined to get off on the right foot and relinquish my outdated persona. But, my English professor, married to a Judy, automatically had me pegged as one, too.

“I’d rather not be called Judy,” I told him. “That’s a name from my other life.”

“Funny,” he said, “you look like a Judy to me.”

That’s the problem: the name Judith does not go well on someone with a Judy face. Yet, I assumed every Judith must have started off with the same affliction. Somewhere along the way they were able to discard that image, so why couldn’t I? And yet, the road to Judith was paved with obstacles at every turn.

But you don’t mess with a grown woman who covets her identity. By the sheer title of wife and mother, I attained my goal: I became a full-fledged, authentic Judith, a name I have been known by ever since.

After giving birth to my daughter, Elizabeth, I hit a detour. She was referred to as Liz.

“No,” I corrected, “She’s Elizabeth.”

I now had to deal with a double-whammy: a daughter who was abbreviated, and eventually evolved into a Lizzie.

The sad reality is that no matter how hard I try, the real Judy lurks within me still. She creeps up at inopportune times. When I open my mouth and out pops a malaprop, Judy is to blame. When I spill drinks, get a speeding ticket, argue, and become overtly exasperated, Judy is responsible. Waking up looking disheveled, it’s Judy who drags herself out of bed. Not until I am freshly showered and ready to face the day do I morph into a Judith.

Last week, I was getting out of my car when I heard someone holler: “Hey, Judy.” For a moment I stopped short, nearly losing my Judith composure. I wanted to shout back: “are you talking to me?” But Judith told me to keep going. So, I continued on my way, dying to know who was trying to get my attention.

That’s the curse of the Judy: no matter how much a Judith I am, a piece of my past lingers on as the great equalizer, reminding me that just when I think I’ve arrived and gotten it all together - underneath the façade - Judy is alive and well, keeping me tormented, humble and forever young.

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News. She can be reached via email at joodth@snet.net or at judithmarks-white.com.