Monday, January 27, 2014


EVERY day as I walked to second grade I passed it, and every day I tried to pronounce the word that blazed forth in large block letters from a poster showing a twisting cobble-stoned street leading uphill to an unknown destination. The travel agency also displayed posters of Spain (that word I could easily decipher) and England (ditto). But this other word had a very tricky EU combo in the beginning—one I had never seen before. I was too embarrassed to ask anyone.

It started to give me a headache. The -ROPE part I could sound out; there was plenty of “See Jane jump rope, see her jump” where I came from. I was, after all, nobody’s fool. But how to combine ROPE with the letters E and U? Whew. The word didn’t seem to come up much in conversation, although how I would recognize it, I didn’t know exactly. I just knew I would. The way I would know when my future husband walked in the room, like Debbie Reynolds or Janet Leigh knew. Some things you just knew.

I tried making three syllables out of the word: EE­-YOU-ROPE. Inside my snug P.S. 41 classroom on Greenwich Avenue, across the street from the infuriating poster, I debated whether to ask Mrs. Elliot if she’d ever been to EE-YOU-ROPE.

I figured it must be a place of some kind...unless it was a state of mind that you felt when you were there, or a quality of the place. (Like a picture of a hotel that might proclaim LUXURY….) But I couldn’t get my courage up. What if it was a really, really stupid question? I had to keep up appearances. So far I was in the top level reading circle and I’d be damned if I was going to be displaced by asking about an unassigned word.

The headache, though. Or, more like a brainache.

Finally, one afternoon after school, as I paused to confront my nemesis, I seized my chance. A kind-looking woman stood next to me, peering wistfully at the various posters. I pointed to the offending, the maddening one, the one that haunted my dreams.

 “Please, can you tell me how to pronounce that word?” 
 "Sure. Spain.”
 “No, the other one.”
 “Oh—sure. You’re up.”
  “Excuse me?” 
  “You’re up."
  “That’s right.” 

  “Thank you!”

And I skipped home, headache-free for a long time to come. And waited for someone to ask me.

I couldn’t wait to say proudly, yet off-handedly,”Oh, that? That’s just YURRUP. It’s a place near Spain.”

And I knew I would go someday, and find out what was at the top of that cobble-stoned street. It didn’t look any more exciting than Macdougal Alley, just five blocks away, but you never knew.
You just never knew what those Yurrupeans might have up their ruffled sleeves.

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