The Grid

When I met Orlando, everybody called him “Lanny.”

Maybe some of you still do and if you do that’s not a big deal to him. But somewhere early in our marriage he asked me to call him Orlando. It is, after all, his given name and he would prefer to use it. So I obliged and now “Lanny” is a name I seldom, if ever, use. And the result, after 15 years of doing it, is that a lot of people only know him as Orlando. It’s a name we’ve grown used to. Until recently, I kind of forgot I ever had to work at switching.

But here in Milford it does cause some consternation.

First of all I should tell you that when I meet people in Milford, the first order of business is their plotting me on the grid. The map. The Milford family tree. It’s impossible to know somebody here without knowing “who they’re with” (Godfather reference intended). It’s important to them. It’s not like those of us from the crowded coasts who meet people every single day that come from nowhere or everywhere. Here, people have an origin. A heritage. To know me is to know where I fit.

So when we meet, they consider me with a pleasant expression and say, “Okay, so you’re a Roth. Who is your husband?”

“Orlando,” I reply.

I watch as a strange look comes over their faces. “Orlando?” they puzzle. “Orlando? Who are his parents?”

“Milt and Wilma,” I answer. “You know, the ones who owned the restaurant.”

“Oh right! Wow, do we miss that place! And they have a son named Orlando?” I watch as the person mentally ticks through the family members, one by one, until….

“Oh, you mean Lanny!”

“Right,” I say.

And without a doubt, one of the following statements will emerge:

“I went to high school with Lanny.” “I’ve know Lanny since I was a little kid.” “Lanny and I used to be in the same Sunday School class.” And the ever famous, “Lanny is my second cousin.”

And then the person and I will small talk for a little while.  I try feverishly to remember the name of this person and they succeed in nailing my place in on the grid. The exchange making them comfortable in knowing where I fit, and even helps them infer several key pieces of information about me without even having to dig for it. Knowing Lanny  means they know me.

But does it?

Well, yes, to one extent it does. To know Lanny means to know I must be a committed Christian. He wouldn’t have married anyone else. And it also means that I probably hold to his values: strong family, education, hard work. All true–I value those things. And I admire my husband more than I can say for how he lives out those values in the real world. But is that it? Is that all there is to know about me?

Well of course it isn’t. The rest is a mystery to be unraveled. It would be as much of a mistake for the good people of Milford to assume that Lanny and I are identical as it would be for me to assume that they are all identical. Or defined by their places on the grid. It might send you in the right direction, but in the end we become the people we choose to become.

And I think that’s part of the reason that I am married to Orlando and not Lanny. He’s been away from here a long time. Has changed and grown and been refined by experience and the intervention of a loving God. He’s a teacher, a husband, a father.  And he’s a man, not a boy.

I guess that makes both of us a mystery. Who is this masked man? And who is his wife?

And that’s with or without the grid.

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2 responses to “The Grid

  1. Toni – you are quickly gaining the insight of Milford and the good people of the Milford community. How quickly one forgets the name game when you haven’t lived there for a while. Even after growing up there, I can often confuse myself trying to figure out who belongs to whom. I suppose that is mainly because I don’t consider it an important part of who someone is. (I like to think of each person as an individual without the family baggage that often follows them around.)

    I am one of those people you described in this blog – for I am guilty of always using Orlando’s nickname. Not because I think of him as a boy, but, rather that I think of him as a very dear and important person in my life. I truly think the world of Orlando and am so very proud of the man he has become. I don’t use this term often, but, I do “admire” Orlando for the way he lives his life and the husband and father he is today. So, in my mind, I will continue to think of him as Lanny – however, I have great respect for a person’s name and will, from this moment on, refer to this ‘gentle’man as Orlando (husband of Toni)!
    (Thanks Toni for teaching me a new lesson today.)

  2. I am meeting you both for the very first time, and I do not in any way fit into the grid, as my husband Dallas and I are transplants, brought here by the college, and bonded by the relationships within this community. Welcome!

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