Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Jennifer in Massachusetts

Jennifer M., 39:

I was conceived in February 1969 while my mother was a student at Boston University.  I was named after the Donovan song 'Jennifer Juniper'.  

My early childhood was spent roaming around New England and beyond with my young and, er, free spirited parents.  They gave me a lot of breathing room, and actually lost me for an entire day at a folk festival in Louisiana.  

I think I could sing all the songs of Joni Mitchell, John Lennon and Janis Joplin before I could talk.  I actually spoke my first words at age 2 when our van caught on fire and my 22 year old father went in to rescue all of his worldly positions.  The bystanders were concerned about the a) vehicle on fire and b) the man rushing to ENTER it.  My mother just kept pointing to me and shouting 'She's talking! She's talking!"  Milestones matter.  Even to hippies who don't know what day of the week it is.
When I was in first grade my parents got day jobs and moved us into a four bedroom ranch house in the same small Massachusetts town they grew up in.  1969 must have been the Chinese year of the Jennifer, as I soon discovered that there were Jennifers around every corner.  About 10% of the girls in my graduating class shared the name.  The adventures of my early life gave me enough fuel for differentiation, though.  Wise beyond my years, I entered the sales funnel of public education as an ostracized outsider (almost like a jungle boy raised by wolves or bears or something) and came out the other end as cheerleader captain.  Looking back, I think I like jungle boy better.
I dyed my dark blond locks jet black before heading to college while I grasped for a new identity.  I smoked long, skinny cigarettes and spoke French.  I came out of that vortex four years later with long red hair extensions and a pregnant belly. It was time to get a job, and quickly. 
The first day of my first 'real' job I was introduced to the president of the company.  Who promptly began singing a heartfelt rendition of 'Jennifer Juniper'.  Middle-aged child of the 60s in pinstripe suit.  Story of my life.  Everything magically fell into place.
I've worn a lot of hats during the years, but I've always been a Jennifer, never a Jen, Jenn or Jenny.  I never minded when just about everyone in my second grade class shared my name, and don't mind now that it's pretty much a neon sign advertising my age.  It's a badge of honor like, say, Beatrice or Dorothy was a couple of generations back.  

Having the name Jennifer is like an book who's inside cover reads 'I was born into and grew up some of the most turbulent and fascinating times in human history'.  Man's first steps on the moon and the advent of the internet bookmarked my, and many Jennifer's first quarter century (regardless of whether that, and everything that came in between was watched on tv or from the back of a VW bus).  I wouldn't trade the name, or the experience for the world.

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