What’s that word?

I remember it like it was yesterday. I’d just received a letter from our neighbor’s granddaughter, and I tore into it excitedly. They were the days when you could never adorn an envelope with too many stickers, “K.I.T.” requests or felt tip marker doodles. We’d become pen pals after playing one summer while she was visiting Anaheim. She was from Wisconsin, I think, and was a couple years older. I was 6 or so.

“What does it say?” my mom asked. “Read it to me.”

“Dear Lauren,” I began. “How are you? I am fine. We just got back from a trip to…”

I stared at the next word. It had me stumped.

“Go on,” my mom encouraged.

I stared some more, then spit it out.

“We just got back from a trip to Knee-uh-gair-uh Falls. Where’s Knee-uh-gair-uh Falls?” I asked my mom.

“Ny-AG-ruh, honey,” she said. “Ny-AG-ruh Falls in New York.”

I scrutinized the word for another minute and was instantly baffled as to why I thought it would ever be pronounced any other way.

Ny-AG-ruh. Of course. I’d heard of Niagara Falls before, but apparently had never seen it in writing.

Another word around that same age also stumped me: homogenized. I’d see it written on milk cartons and would whisper it to myself, wondering what it had to do with a cow:

Homo-JEAN-ized. Homo-JEAN-ized? What was that all about? Should I be drinking this milk? Did the cow ever experience pain of the “homogenized” variety?

“Huh-MAW-jin-iss,” I was told. Then I got the explanation.

Go ahead and laugh. I still do. Typical me, over-thinking and over-complicating everything in my head.

Seems like there are always things that appear one way when, in reality, they’re something entirely different and not what we expected. I saw Niagara Falls today for the first time and was stunned by its beauty — beauty that I’d always heard of, but which was initially hidden years ago by a strangely spelled word. I shared my Knee-uh-gair-uh story earlier, only then realizing that there are always people in our lives who care enough to nudge us in the right direction — in order to add clarity, understanding and who educate us while opening our eyes a bit more. Maybe it’s just a word, or maybe they turn our lives around in larger ways.

For those people, and for the ones I shared Niagara’s beauty with today, I am thankful.

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