New Models

A writer and former teacher of English, WILLIAM L. COPITHORNE is now a businessman in New York.

“Now why should that young Wilson couple be sending out announcements of a new automobile they’ve bought?” I asked, looking at a card that had arrived in the mail. At the top was a picture of a sports car, and, in bold print underneath, the words: “Announcing a New Model in the Wilson Family.”

My wife snatched the card from my hand. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “it’s a boy. Isn’t that wonderful! They have two girls, you know.”Her brow furrowed. “At least I think it’s a boy,” she said. “It’s a blue automobile.” She read the text aloud. “The Wilson partners are proud to present a new model just off the assembly line. Designer: Joe Wilson. Manufacturer: Ethel Wilson. Chief Mechanic: Dr. Richard Crane. Production Plant: St. Luke’s Hospital. Name of Model: Joseph, Jr. Weight of Chassis: 7 lbs., 4 oz. Wheelbase: 19 inches. Delivery Date: March 15, 1959.”

“Joseph, Junior,” my wife murmured happily. “And isn’t that a clever way to announce it? Joe Wilson is an automobile salesman, you know.”

“If they had a baby, why couldn’t they just say they had a baby?” I asked, but she was reading on. “Demand feed intake, fuel consumption normal, performance improved by liberal applications of oil, with regular changes.”

We have received at least a dozen birth announcements of this elaborately bewildering kind during the last few years, and while I am able to withstand whimsey as well as the next man, my patience is beginning to wear a little thin. I’m afraid that this sort of thing — like the mimeographed family letter at Christmastime — has caught on and has begun to spread.

One feature that most of these announcements have in common is the effort — often desperate — to give information about the birth of the baby in terms of the father’s occupation. The child of a man connected with publishing, for example, may appropriately be announced as a new book whose joint authors are the mother and father. In such a case, the doctor is usually identified as the editor, and the hospital as the printing plant. All sorts of variations are possible, of course. We once received an announcement that heralded the birth of twins as a book in two volumes, with the authorship credited solely to the mother. The father was listed as “printer’s devil.” Recently, however, I was completely taken in by a flier describing a new high-fidelity audio system on sale at the record shop of my friend, Harry Greene. “The latest in hi-fi systems,” it read, “portable unit, 8 lbs., 2 oz., assembled by Greene and Greene, rig production engineered by Doctor P. K. Smith, 15,000 cps range, 12-inch coaxial speaker, 20-watt amplifier combination unit that cuts in in case of delayed feedback, unconditionally endorsed by Mercy Hospital after trial period.” I dropped into the shop to look at the thing a few days later, only to have Greene tell me that the new hi-fi system was actually Harry, Jr., who, since birth, had been suffering noisily with the colic. “That announcement was Gladys’ idea,” Greene said apologetically.

Young naval reserve officers and their wives are yielding increasingly to the temptation to announce a new member of the family in terms of the launching of a ship. The whistle is equated with the lusty crying of the baby, and the ship’s tonnage with the birth weight. The marine architect is usually the father; shipbuilder, the mother; master of launching ceremonies, the doctor; and the drydock, the hospital. These announcements never fail to mention “wet bottoms,” and I remember one that even went so far as to identify the slap on the newborn’s “stern” with the breaking of the bottle of champagne on the ship’s bow.

Actually there are few occupations that do not lend themselves, gracefully or not, to such purposes. A businessman may announce a new stock or bond “issue”; a professor, a lecture “delivered"; an industrialist, a new “product” of his plant. Undertakers. plumbers, and others who are engaged in really intransigent occupations need not feel left out, however. They may resort to two types of birth announcements that seem to be in the common domain — the opening of a new play and the social debut.

Thus, I was not deceived by an announcement which Mr. Huggins, our furnace repairman, sent us not long ago. I knew instantly that he was not the “author,” nor Mrs. Huggins the “producer,” of a new play whose “critical reception" was a “howling success.” They’ve had a baby, I said shrewdly to myself — and I was right. And I was quick to realize that the local chiropodist’s newborn daughter was not in her teens, as the arch announcement of her “coming-out party” implied.

Since that experience 1 have become so alert to what may lie behind even the most patently straightforward communication that I overleap myself. Just this morning, for example, I opened a note from Frank and Helen Anderson which seemed to be an invitation to a party to meet Mary Ellen Anderson. Mary Ellen had recently “arrived” at their home with Doctor James Jones, who had “brought” her. “Aha!” I said cunningly. “I see that the Andersons have a new daughter.”

With an incredulous look, my wife took the note and scanned it. Her face cleared. “Mary Ellen,” she explained patiently, “is Frank’s sister. She lives in New Haven and is here for a visit. She drove on with Doctor Jones, to whom she is engaged, and we are invited to a party in their honor —just as the note says.”