Lend Me Your Ear 耳
A blog devoted to words, expressions, and more than occasional ramblings.
– Mark DesRochers
May 10, 2020 (Mother’s Day)
“I speak the truth not so much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little more as I grow older.”
Michel de Montaigne
This first installment of the second version of my Lend Me Your Ear blog is dedicated to my Mom who was best known to all by her nickname, “Mimi.”
Yes, my Mom’s nickname was Mimi.
As I have discovered, Mimi is a fairly common nickname for a girl. Many girls acquire the nickname when their given names are shortened to Mimi. These include: Amie, Emily, Jamie, Mia, Miari, Michaela, Michelle, Milena, Mimosa, Mindy, Mirabel, Miriam, Misty, Naomi, and Sammie (Yep, Mimosa. Really. Guess that means we could have called Mom- “Momosa” – but I digress…)
My Mom didn’t go by any of these names. And she did not get her nickname in the usual way. Mom’s name was Mary Elizabeth (Mary Elizabeth Sanderson actually – and eventually DesRochers and for a while Bradley).
Mom got the nickname when her little sister had some difficulty saying “Mary” and turned it into “Mimi”. And “Mimi” stuck. For a lifetime. A long lifetime that ended just over five years ago, and a lifetime during which Mimi was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, great-aunt and so much, much more to so, so many.
I figure it is time to see just what this Mimi word is all about.
Mom loved words, and so do I. The first version of this blog gave us some common ground and she supported my work on it. In fact, I remember attending some writing classes back then which always seemed to start with a discussion of the latest “pieces” that all of us aspiring writers were working on. I used to say that I didn’t have any “pieces” that I was working on at the moment, but “I did have a blog that my Mom really liked.”
It was always good for a laugh, but it was also the truth.
So, it is fitting to start Lend me your Ear 耳 with a post about Mom. I imagine you’re thinking that the 耳 is supposed to be a Roman Numeral II (you know, as in the second version of this blog). Well it is supposed to look like a Roman Numeral II, but it also means something more. It turns out that the word “mimi” means “ears” in Japanese and is represented by the symbol 耳. Mom was a pretty good listener. In fact, she generally preferred listening to talking. Even when her ears no longer worked as well, and it became harder for her to hear, she still sure tried. She took an interest in what we all had to say. Even if she didn’t always agree, she still wanted to hear.
An internet “meme” is a concept or idea that spreads virally from one person to another on the internet, most often in the form of an image or video file. Meme is pronounced “meem,” and is the shortened version of “mimeme” a term first coined by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. The term “meme” literally means “that which is imitated,” and has been applied to internet concepts which are spread from person to person in a way which is analogous to the transmission of genes from parent to child.
This meme I get. Nearly every day I catch myself doing or saying something or behaving in a way that traces back to Mimi. I catch myself and I know it. When this happens, it is my very own Meme and it comes straight from Mimi. And regardless of how they pronounce meme on the internet, my Meme is pronounced Me Me.
Want an example? The word “mimi”, when derived from the Spanish word dormir, is slang for sleep. As in “nighty-night, I’m going mimi…”
Anyone who ever visited Mimi (or had her over to your house for a visit) knew that she could go “mimi” in a seated upright position while in the midst of nearly every conceivable activity – but especially if she were reading, doing a crossword puzzle, knitting or working on her latest quilt square. Same for me, and I must admit that I come by this Meme honestly. Just ask anyone I live with. In fact, I may already have an even worse case of sleeping mimi than Mimi ever had. I came to this conclusion recently when I caught myself nodding off during our latest family game of Settlers of Catan.
Pretty sure I never saw Mimi dozing during a Scrabble match.
The term “screaming meemie” came to be used in the 1940’s and described the frightening noise that a certain type of World War II rocket would make when launched. Although Mimi was of the same vintage as this term, having come of age in the 40’s, she certainly was no screamer. I don’t remember her ever raising her voice.
Certainly, there were times when Mimi had cause to scream, and no one would have blamed her if she did. In fact, a little screaming probably would have done her some good. And, really, she would not have needed to scream. She just needed to be more direct about what it was that she was trying to say.
By now you may be starting to wonder… “Hey Mark, what are you doing? Where is this going? It is Mother’s Day… and Mimi’s your Mom. This is a tribute. A remembrance. You are supposed to gush and glow. This post is supposed to be all rainbows and unicorns.” Well yes, I get that. I loved and appreciated my Mom. I think I have said that here so far, and besides, I haven’t finished this one yet.
But before I get to the ending, let me explain.
Scientists who study memory know that the process of remembering is naturally flawed in many ways. Especially the way we process memories of loved ones who pass. It is often a social construction in which memories are shared with family and friends. Information is disclosed and absorbed, and as people search for meaning and work through grief, the memories change in the process. There is something about the death of a person that leads us to exaggerate who they really were. Eulogies cast loved ones in their best possible (impossible?) light. It is comforting, of course. And it works in the moment. But in the long run, our own personal memories leave many of us searching for answers.
The Montaigne quote above, about being more inclined to speak the truth as we grow older is true for many of us. I know that it is true for me, and it sure seemed to be true for Mimi. Of course, it begs many questions about the “truth” word. With the biggest question being – Whose truth? But in the context of this post, I think we should accept the fact that we all have our own truth. And Mimi had hers. The problem seemed to be though that she started speaking her truth a little too late. It just never seemed like a natural thing for her to do. At least not to me.
Trust me, there is such a thing as being too direct about your version of the truth (eg. Ruth Langmore for you Ozark watchers). As with most things, somewhere in the middle seems to work best. That’s where the truth resides anyway. But I don’t think Mimi ever figured out the best way to speak her truth, and I feel like I missed out because of it. I know that I had a role in this. I could have listened more and listened better. As it was, there were many times when I simply missed the message.
Since I missed the message in the moment with Mimi, I have had to search and find it on my own. Here it is:
Speak Your Truth.
Be kind. Be constructive. Consider the perspectives of others.
But Speak Your Truth.
The “Lend me your ears…” quote above comes from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him…
And anyone who has been to Fred’s cabin knows where the picture above comes from:
It is customary for those who visit the rustic family cabin in northern Wisconsin to autograph the outhouse wall. Fred’s cabin is a beautiful place. Full of nostalgia and memories. Mimi loved it there and visited often. She autographed the wall on each of her visits. She wrote just her name when she visited there alone, and she included the names of her companions when she went there with others. The picture records her visits starting in ’97, but Mimi had been going to the cabin for decades before that.
I decided to do some real social distancing and visited the cabin just last week. I spent a few days enjoying the alone time (the enjoyment of time alone, on occasion, is another Meme I got from Mimi). The last time I was there was nearly five years ago when I buried some of Mimi’s ashes. I did not notice Mimi’s autographs on that trip and had no idea how long her list of visits had gotten. Seeing Mimi’s autographs prompted me to resume this blog. It is something I’d been thinking about doing for a while. Now I have done it, and I’m glad.
Last time I went to the cabin it was to bury Mom. After my recent trip there, I decided that it was time to praise her.
The name Mimi means “Beloved”.
An apt definition for the nickname she carried all those years.
My memories are simply my contribution to the memory mosaic of Mimi.
But my memories tell me that “Beloved” sums it up and says it best.
And the handwriting on the wall leaves no doubt.