My husband reminded me that after I posted about the 5 cheetah we saw in The Kruger, I never came back to tell you what a group of male cheetah are called.
A “coalition.” A coalition of cheetah.
When I first heard the word, I thought our heavily accented guide was saying “a collision of cheetah,” which I thought was brilliant, imagining those split-second legs and gangly bodies tumbling every which way over each other to tackle prey. I was happy, however, when he repeated himself and I thought he said “a collusion of cheetah.” That sent me into reverie about an exclusive club of hunters, stealthily hiding from humans and waiting to catch prey by all means necessary.
A “coalition,” therefore, was kind of a letdown. Of course it’s a suitable term, given the nature of male bonding and function of male animal groups, but I think “a collision” or “a collusion” would have been cooler.
Speaking of cool terms for groups, just last week my niece had her third baby girl, creating what I like to call “A Poesy of Parks’.” “Poesy” are poetical works. What are children if not poetry, yes?
Keeping with tradition, I’ve written a letter to my newest grand-niece, Nora Katherine Parks:
I hope to get away with calling you NiK-NaK, after the NK initials of your name. Nik-Naks are a snack here in Africa, loved by nearly everyone.
You are the luckiest baby in the world, born to the most loving and kind parents I could ever imagine for a child. You have the most incredible big sisters, Adeline and Clara. Don’t worry about the funky nickname. I can’t help giving them. I even nicknamed your mommy “Bazinga.” (But you still have to call her Mommy.)
I can only imagine what you will see in your lifetime, being born in the 21st century. I just read that the next time Haley’s Comet will appear will be the year 2061, and I will be 91. You will be 55, so I hope you’ll visit wherever I am and we can watch it together. I can die after that, but hopefully not. 101 is actually my wish. You will love me and be annoyed by me many times by then.
In the meantime, I hope we get to spend enough time together for you to know your ol’ Aunt Marla. I have thought about what you can call me. I have a friend who is called Grauntie (Grand-Auntie). That’s not really for me. Your mommy calls me Auntie M. Your awesome Uncle Brandon calls me Marla, along with some choice expletives from time to time. You may not call me choice expletives until you’re 18. Your sisters call me Aunt Marwa.
As a side note—and this is important, little NiK-NaK—I am your grand-aunt, not your “great-aunt.” Many, many, many people use “Great Aunt.” Many, many, many people are wrong.
Despite the fact that standard dictionaries now allow for “great” as an alternative to “grand,” it is still incorrect. This is the same way the dictionary revised the word “loan” to be used as either a noun or a verb, so that everyone and her uncle (or grand uncle) now thinks they “loan” people money, when in fact they lend it. But you will learn in your lifetime, as a wonderful but frustrating mentor once told me, “English is a living, breathing organism. If it didn’t adapt to its environment we would all still be speaking Latin.” I only agree with this when I like changes, like punctuation outside most quotation marks, or one period after a sentence.
Anyway, in terms of genealogy (the only true source for defining our ancestral relationships) “Grand” refers to the generation before your mother, while “great” is for two generations before your mother. It can be easy to remember this way: Grandma, not Greatma; Grand-aunt, not Great-aunt. If you go two generations back you add the great, as in great-grandma, or great-grand-aunt. Get it? I knew you would. You Poesy Parkses are smart that way. Of course, this may also have been one of those Aunt Marlaisms that annoyed you, but I warned you of that above.
Nora, I’m sorry to be so very, very far away for your debut. I was lucky enough to meet both your sisters within days of their birth, but you and I will not meet for over a year, when I return to visit November, 2015.
But I promise to make DVDs. I’ve already been making them for all three of you, but until now, I’ve called you “new baby Parks” in the videos, because your mommy and daddy cleverly kept your name a closely guarded secret. (They probably didn’t want to give me time to come up with an even worse nickname.)
My gift for your birth is one that was given to me the day you were born: a One Rand coin from the 2002 World Summit here in South Africa. It’s only the 2nd I’ve seen since moving here, and I’m bypassing everyone above you on my coins gift list to give this one to you.
Welcome to the world, Nora Katherine. May your life be one of equality, compassion, liberty and love.
Love, Auntie M / Aunt Marwa