... But Dad had the right answer
"What's in a name?" The old bard of Avon asked this question long ago. I can state from my boyhood recollection of name confusion that it can indeed cause an interesting, if not humorous, set of circumstances.
Old time Melrosians may recall the name Leo M. Norton who was an undertaker, or is it "mortician", who was located in Malden. I am not certain but what the establishment may still be there. His name, in itself, would not be remarkable if it were not for the fact that my father, Leo H. Norton, who was a John Hancock life insurance agent, bore a very similar moniker. I quote old Bill Shakespeare again when I say, "and thereby hangs a tale".
My dad, Leo H., had a penchant for fancy dress which stood him apart from the average life insurance salesman. For many years his wintertime ensemble consisted of a black bowler derby, a long, elegant gray overcoat with black chesterfield collar and a pair of gray ankle spats. He was, indeed, a well-turned-out representative of the underwriters' community. Dad's flair for somber garb may or may not have had a bearing on the story. (This photo is an example of Dad's dapper wardrobe.)
Because of this unusual name similarity, my family would receive telephone calls from people who had evidently not checked their directory closely. These calls were mostly during the daytime hours when only my mother was at home. She would politely inform them that they had the wrong number and this would be the end of the story. However, as one cannot predict the time of the sudden demise of a loved one, and the consequent need for funeral arrangements, some of these calls would be in the evening when Dad was home.The phone was near his easy chair and he would answer it. He was not so quick to correct the mistaken caller. No fool he, this was a sales opportunity if ever he heard one. He would proceed to engage the bereaved caller on the pretext he thought he knew the dearly departed.
After commiserating with him or her, he would inquire gently if the death would impose undue financial hardship on the family. In many cases it would and, although my father allowed it was too late to help now, it would be wise to have life insurance coverage in the future. He would then proceed to sell some small policy for the family. They were known, I believe, as industrial policies with premiums as little as 25 cents a week (or was it a month) but they served people well in those depression days.
Don't snicker, my father's creative sales techniques helped support a wife and four kids during those lean years. And he did finally give the caller the undertaker's number.