Literacy: Optional in America

The other day I was having a conversation with Carmel, one of the nice, polite, friendly, competent baristas at the Omni Hotel where I buy my afternoon latte. I don’t remember exactly how it came up, but I asked, “So, Carmel, were you named after the mountain or the church?” (For those who did not grow up in the South with lots of black friends, “Mt Carmel Baptist Church” and “Mt Nebo Baptist Church” are very popular names in the Southern black Christian heritage, a fact which I know from experience to be true but could not begin to account for.)

Carmel’s eyes widened slightly in mild surprise, and then she congratulated me: “Wow, there aren’t many people who know that’s a mountain. Usually people ask me which kind of candy my parents named me after.”

“But, um, wouldn’t it be obvious…?” I left the rest of the question hanging unspoken in the air.

“You would think so!” she exclaimed. “But no, I get that all the time. In fact, the other day I was ordering a salad at [unfortunately I didn’t catch the name of the restaurant] and I wrote my name on the order. Then when I went and picked up the salad, there was a side order of what I thought was some weird salad dressing. But it turned out to be a little cup of caramel…so I think when I wrote my name…”

I was already laughing and we finished her sentence together: “…they thought you/I wanted caramel on your/my salad!”

 

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