My mother’s name is Bertha, and she’s always hated it, even though she was named after her mother. She complained that she was the one of the three girls (her older sister was Gretchen, her younger Rita) who “got stuck” with that name.
Thank goodness for nicknames.
I don’t know who first started calling her “Babe”—her mother or her older sister or brother—but it stuck—with three of her five siblings.
My mother was the third child. That put her right in the middle of six. Not old enough to have the freedoms of the first two, but old enough to watch over and take care of the younger ones. She often told me how she was just a child herself but had to take responsibility for her youngest brother and sister.
My mother’s parents came from Germany. My grandfather owned a German delicatessen in Manhattan, and my grandmother, besides having six children, helped to make foods to sell and helped out in the store. In those days, if you were an older child, you looked out for the younger ones. Maybe that’s what made my mother such a worrier. She was six years old and walking her baby brother in his carriage. One time she was out with her youngest sister (who always had a touch of the devil in her) when her sister threw herself on the ground in a tantrum. A woman walking by scowled at my mother and said, “What are you doing to that child?”
My mother’s oldest sister and brother and even her youngest brother called her Babe throughout her life. To their children she was “Aunt Babe” and remains so today to her last surviving sister-in-law and her children. And though it may seem strange to call a ninety-nine-year-old woman Babe, it still seems fitting for my mom. She always was and still is a Babe.