And many words work their way into my vocabulary as I read. But I cannot recall what I was reading when I came upon this or that word. The most memorable word in this category is "exacerbate". I must have been forty at the time that word got my attention. I have no recollection of what I was reading - book, newspaper, magazine, who knows? When I saw the word, I consulted the dictionary. Like so many other words I've looked up in the dictionary, "exacerbate" would have quickly fallen out of my vocabulary, except "exacerbate" suddenly became a hot word. In the papers and on the TV news, every situation was being exacerbated due to one thing or another.
There is no uncertainty about when and where I learned about ennui. It was a summer evening in the early 1960s, and Mom was sitting on the milk box by the front door, working on the crossword puzzle in that day's Pittsburgh Press. I stepped outside, sat on the door step, and began hassling her. "Do you need my help?" I asked several times. Finally, she handed me the paper and said, "OK, see what you can do."
I looked at the clues for the spaces not yet filled; every one of them stumped me. So I moved to finding Mom's mistakes. She didn't make many mistakes, but there was always a chance she would. If she did, I wasn't likely to find it. But she made a very obvious error that day. Well, I thought she did.
"You goofed," I said.
"That's not a mistake," she said.
"Yes it is."
"No it isn't," she said, getting testy.
"Come on, E-N-N-U-I is not a word."
"It is so. It's 'ennui', and it means lazy or listless."
"Oh," I said, as I got up to go back in the house and consult the dictionary. I was determined to prove her wrong. But the lexicographers agreed with her.
Dictionary.com defines ennui as, "a feeling of utter weariness or discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom." That would be me these days. Maybe it is the short days. For some reason, nightfall coming early seems different this year. I can feel the darkness setting in, and it doesn't feel right, like the world, or at least my world, is contracting.
Except for one other year, the shorter days and the return to standard time never bothered me. Back on Myrtle Avenue, as the kids were growing up,I always thought dinner was better when the sun went down before we sat down. The four of us at the table in the well lit kitchen, our little island in the dark world. I don't know how Debbie, Russ, or Bethany felt, but to me dinner on a winter's night was family time at its best.
Short winter days and long winter nights lost their aura of family and togetherness when the nest emptied in 2001. But fall and winter's dwindling daylight hours never bothered me. I was working for the Star Beacon then and more worried about the chance of snow as I made my way to a high school gymnasium to cover a basketball game.
In the fall of 2007, I left the ranks of the gainfully employed, going from two jobs to no job. The short days of fall and winter came and went without notice that year and in 2008. Not so in '09. The clouds and rain moved into Northeast Ohio the day the clocks were turned back. The dreary, damp weather stayed for two weeks. If the sun managed to poke through for a minute or two during that time, I didn't notice. I was one sad sombitch. Then one day the wind shifted, the barometric pressure rose, and the sunshine and blue skies returned, lifting my spirits in the process. The clouds came back every few days, but so did the sun. My outlook on life didn't have a problem with that.
From 2010 through '16, the autumnal equinox and the return to standard time passed almost without my noticing. Not so this year, and I can't blame the weather this time. Oh, there have been rainy days, but there have been many more pleasant sunny days. Days so comfortable and beautiful that on my wheelchair trips through the Covenant Woods' parking lots my mind has often returned to Ashtabula and memories of those magnificent spring evenings in late May and early June when we'd go to Cederquist Park to watch Russ and Beth play Little League ball.
It isn't long, however, before the ennui returns. "Ennui", the word I learned while kidding around with my mother, has become all too meaningful to me almost sixty years later. Should anyone wish to give me a good, swift kick in the ass, you are welcome to do so. I promise to get out of the wheelchair and standup to make it easier for you.
* * *
I was taken aback when I typed "sombitch", and the BlogSpot spellchecker didn't throw a squiggly red line below it to let me know I'd misspelled a word. Thinking it might be a legitimate word that I was unfamiliar with, I checked the Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster websites. They were both befuddled and provided a list of words they thought I might have intended to ask about.
Then it was on to Urban Dictionary, which confirmed my belief that it is the way some men in the South say "son of a bitch." But it went on to say, the southern men who use it are mostly "over fourty." Even the BlogSpot spellchecker knows that ain't right. Urban Dictionary also said, "sombitch" is usually said in a loud, high pitched manner and can be heard all the way across the trailer park. I don't think I was that loud. Was I?