When you have insomnia, your mind starts to race and you think back on a lot of things. I guess it’s the adult equivalent of trying to tell yourself a bedtime story. Staring at the ceiling last night, I started remembering (for all you young whippersnappers out there) that there was a time when state abbreviations weren’t standardized. There were no neat, clean, two-capital-letter abbreviations. It was lawlessness and anarchy when you sent mail. That letter could go to Boston, Mass. or Tupelo, Miss. or Miami, Fla.
Back in the day, PA was still “Pee Aye,” but abbreviated as “Pa.” Like what Opie called Andy Griffith. Or “Ma & Pa Kettle,” if you wanna kick it really old school.
Then I started thinking about when I was in kindergarten or first grade and our class went on a school field trip to a local park. I don’t know if it was really a field trip or just free child labor masquerading as community service, but I know we wound up picking up a lot of trash at the park. Which, as a kid was kinda fun because, 1.) it beats sitting in a classroom all day and 2.) gives you an opportunity to call your fellow students “trash pickers” and equalize the playing field: “That’s right, Popular First Grader. You’re a trash picker, too. Just like me with my free lunch tickets, so eat it!”
At the end of our field trip, I remember they gave us hats that said, “Keep Pa. Beautiful.” And since I was all about the words — and we still had whacky state abbreviations back then — it struck me funny. “Keep Pa. Beautiful.” Like, take Pa to the spa? Give him a tube of lipstick and let him go wild? Cool!
When Mom picked me up from school, I showed her the hat. She looked at it, scrunched up her face in confusion and thought something similar: “Keep Pa beautiful? Like Krásne Petro?” (“Krásne” being the Slovak word for “pretty,” and thus, the aforementioned “Krásne Petro” translated to “Pretty Pete,” some guy in Mom’s old neighborhood in Olyphant who used to walk around town wearing dresses.)
It stuck in my head. You don’t get imagery like that out of your young noggin. Good ol’ fashioned word association games!
Even when state abbreviations became standardized, “Pa.” was still “PA,” just in all caps. Yet, all these years later, regardless of its abbreviation, whenever I think of my state, I still remember to “Keep Pa beautiful.”