Stop Saying My Grandmother Blows!


Almost overnight, both of my grandmothers are on everybody’s you-know-what list.

Both well into their 80s, they smile at the memories of Lawrence Welk, reminisce about their crocheted sweaters, and still use words like, “rouge,” and “brooch.” To both,  “fresh” is not about milk, but instead, ill-tempered children. And they both have the same first name: Irene.

So suddenly, with headlines like, “Irene Blows,” my innocent Grammies have become doily-making demons, publicly branded as ruthless little ladies who, well, blow.

It’s a bit awkward to simultaneously associate one name with equal amounts of love and hate. There’s undergarment Irene. There’s undertow Irene. Sigh.

I hear the name and remember a woman once active with her local New York State community lodge. She organized church rummage sales. The other Irene made intricate sweaters and scrumptious lemon bar cookies. Yet, I’m jarred from this memory as constant Hurricane Irene updates inform: 

“Irene Takes Lives of Dozens.” 

Sigh again. When you see your grandmother’s name on par with such widespread destruction, never mind that she blows, it’s a tad unsettling. It’s just . . . odd. 

First, it was the urging for my grandmothers to get the heck out of dodge. “Go Home, Irene!”

“How rude! That’s my Grammie you’re talking about!” Yet at the same time, I thought, “yes! Take that, Irene. You go and don’t ever come back!”

Oh, Irene.

NOAA’s Art: Hurricane Names

Apparently the notion of naming a hurricane in this fashion was adopted by NOAA in the 1950s (women’s names only; the addition of men’s names came later, in 1978). The process began with longitude/latitude designations and later evolved to something less complex. According to NOAA’s History of Hurricane Names:

“Experience shows that the use of short, distinctive names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older, more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods. These advantages are especially important in exchanging detailed storm information between hundreds of widely scattered stations, coastal bases, and ships at sea.”

Hence, Irene. Snookie. You know, things like that.

Personally, I’d prefer a name that carries a more sophisticated, yet  fierce label. One that imparts an air of hope, yet subtly suggests a darker side, much like many colognes and perfumes. Drakkar Noir. Magie Noir. Cool Water. Inherent danger? Maybe. Maybe not. 

This notion got me thinking. It’s not just the Irenes. There’s every Tom, Dick and Harry that’s a part of a well-accepted phrase, be it good or bad. Is every Joe just some ordinary “Joe Blow”?  Or every Jane, plain? Great Scott! . . . I don’t think so.

I know we’re talking about a catastrophic hurricane that tore boardwalks and families about. (And continues to, as of this writing). Yet with every mention of the word, “Irene,” I can’t help but see the pleasant, cheek-pinching sweetness of my grandmothers’ smiles.

So 20 years from now when my husband turns to me as we follow the path of Cashmere Mist on TV and asks, “Remember Irene?” I most certainly will. I’ll remember the destruction as well as the doilies, the powerful Irene and later, the weakening Irene – never forgetting the memories of all three.  


Jennifer Lilley, 37, is happy to have two terrific grandmothers named Irene and to have weathered Hurricane Irene with very minimal damage. She’s saddened to hear of the devastation the hurricane has caused and has everyone in her thoughts.

© Jennifer Lilley and Jen Lilley’s Thought Buffet, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jennifer Lilley and Jen Lilley’s Thought Buffet with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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