When I was a kid I used to pepper my mom with questions about words I read. For a long time she produced, incredibly, definitions as if she were a walking dictionary. At some point my mom gracefully handled the transition from kid and adolescent questions to adult questions by responding, “I don’t know. Why don’t we look it up?” Thus, she remained perhaps not all-knowing as I first thought, but almost as good.
When I married Sydney, I knew I married a font of knowledge. In our house you will often hear calls of “Sydney, how does the problem of evil work?” “Sydney, what’s the name for the plant with bright yellow flowers that we bought last spring?” “Sydney, how do the wood grains in my furniture correspond with the pattern of the rings on the tree before it was cut?” I realized I had become accustomed to having a walking encyclopedia when Nelson visited last year. He could answer anything I wanted to know about cooking, but when we were roaming around town and I had asked my fourth (unsuccessful) question about the species of tree we were passing, he reminded me that knowledge of trees was not a Penner-wide specialty.
Today, however, I managed to stump Sydney. I asked him how to pronounce “lath,” and heard him say, “There’s no such word.” I may not know everything that he does, but that didn’t keep me from responding, “Yes there is. Now how do you pronounce it?” He clicked away on his keyboard for a moment and then said, “Are you telling me you know a woodworking word I don’t know?” Yup, folks, it happened. And I’m posting it for posterity, even though the background in this post should leave him looking pretty good.