My friend Rebecca mentioned to me that she used to scare and/or annoy her mother by insisting that when she has a daughter, she will name her "Prudence Opal." Rebecca's mother was greatly disturbed by the idea of having a granddaughter saddled with the name "Prudence Opal." She tried exhaustively to convince Rebecca that one of the names by itself might possibly be acceptable, but together? This made me very sad, though not because my friend was either going to have to choose a name other than "Prudence Opal," for her baby, who isn't, incidentally, even inside the front door, much less in the oven, or risk her mother's displeasure. What made me sad about the story as Rebecca told it was that I love to come up with ways of getting to my parents that are utterly annoying and/or alarming, yet won't quite result either in my being grounded or thrown into juvey. This would have been a most praiseworthy way of accomplishing just that. I must give Rebecca highest commendations. (It should be noted that Rebecca is a seriouly nice, sweet kid. This is probably the most evil deed of which she is capable.)
Unfortunately, this act of parental harassment will never work for me for one very simple reason. My mother herself used the very same tactic on her own parents and older siblings. There isn't time or space in one blog to detail just what a despicable child and adolescent my mother was. The simplest way I can think of describing the very evil nature that was her persona at the time would be to tell you that my mother was very likely the worst child on the face of the planet who never smoked, never had premarital sex (including the kind that President Clinton said wasn't really sex), never drank, never did drugs, never killed anyone, never vandalized property, never got into fights, never stole, nor broke into or out of jail. For that matter, I don't believe she was ever arrested, or even detained. That's just how good she was at being bad!
She used to, at the occasional family dinners when both parents and several sibliings, and possibly even siblings' spouses were present, bring up potential names for her future offspring. Part of my mother's motivation was to plant the seed in the minds of those present that such offspring might actually be on their way, but no one present took that aspect of her name threats seriously. It seems that a physical sequence more often than not often precedes the onset of puberty, and my mother had yet to reach even stage one (breast budding) of the sequence. Another reason for lack of concern in this regard was that my mother had yet to discover or to be discovered by boys, and home methods for conceiving babies by using turkey basters were hardly common knowledge among high school freshman in my mother's day.
For these reasons, my mom's shock value was limited to the names themselves with which she came up. When every other facet of her operation was so perfectly preposterous, I don't know why my grandparents and aunts and uncles took her choice of names seriously. My mother's initial choices of children's names were based on cigarette brands. My grandmother was a heavy smoker, which was a bome of great contention between her and my grnadfather both for the negative impact on the family budget and for what he perceived as the negative influence on their seven children. My mother's choices of "Tareyton" and "Kent" as the names for her two offspring bolstered his claims. Next, my mother chose to make my grandfather's proclivity for consumption of hard liquor a bone of contention by insisting that her children would be named "Jim Beam" and "Jack Daniels." Eventually she gave up particular causes and just chose names for the oddity or impropriety of the names themselves.
Roughly once a month the family dinners would occur, and each time the family gathered, someone -- more often than not often my Uncle Ralph-- who was at the time not yet my Uncle Ralph, both because I had yet to ve born and because he had yet to marry my Aunt Victoria. When my mother was asked, she came up with all sorts of unusual selections, but always two each month, because it was teo children that she planned to have. One month it was "Deputy" and "Fortissimo." Another month it was "Scuba" and "Lariat."
My mother always insisted that she would have one boy and one girl. When the names were "Scuba" and "Lariat" one of the relatives asked her which name was the boy's name and which name was the girl's name. "I haven't decided that yet," she told them.
In time, she seemed to settle on two particular names, "October" and "Jesus."
"Are you going to pronounce it the Spanish way; you know,
'Hay-suess'?" asked my Uncle Ralph, who by this time had married into the family.
"I don't think so," my mom answered him.
"Why not?" someone else asked.
"Because we're living in the United States of America! Duh!" she answered whomever it was who asked.
"What if yout baby's not born in October?" someone else asked her.
"What if it's born with three heads? What's that got to do with anything?" my mom asked.
"Which name is for the boy and which one is for the girl?" my grandfather asked her.
"I'll probably name the girl Jesus," my mom answered him.
"That makes sense," he commented to no one in paeticular.
"What makes you so sure you'll have a boy and a girl?" my grandmother asked my mom. "You usually get whatever you get, and you don't have a whole lot of say in the matter." As someone who had given birth to seven babies, my grandmother would have known at least as much as the average person about babies' genders.
"Mother . . ." my mom sighed. "I won't be having any babies until at least the 1990's. By then, they'll have it down to a science," she explained slowly, as though she was talking either to a person who was hard of hearing or to one who was not particularly smart. "You'll pick the sex. You'll pick the hair and eye color." She paused to stare pointedly at my Uncle Ralph. "You'll probably even be able to weed out the fat ones if you want to."
As was typical, no one bothered to argue with my mother because doing so was an utter waste of time and energy. Everyone finished their dinner more or less in silence. My mom said she couldn't help with dishes because she had to pay off the winners in her football pool that she ran. She drove off (at the age of fourteen; the legal driving age in the state was sixteen) in the late-model Trans Am that she had paid cash for herself with winnings from her various sports betting pools.
The years passed and my mother grew into a person who functioned more-or-less normally and followed most of society's rules. She went to college, where she actually attended class. Within about six years, she had earned two bachelor's degrees, one master's degree, and two doctorates. She married my father, who at the time was nearly through medical school. She worked at various psychotherapy and educational psychology jobs. Eventually she became pregnant with twins, but went into labor at about twenty-one weeks of gestation, and neither twin survived.
Fast-forward to nearly two years later. My mothre was again pregnant, and it was again twins. Through what was most likely an anomaly known as superfetation, one twin was conceived probably eight weeks before the other, so the twins - a boy and a girl- arrived weighing six pounds, nine ounces and two pounds, two ounces respectively. The smaller twin spent some time in the neonatal intensive care unit, but both babies ultimately were fine. Their parents had to decide upon names for them. By this time, not only had their mother's taste in names changed; she had a husband who was also a parent of the twins, and as such felt that he, too, was entitled to some say as to what their names would be. A compromise was reached. The boy was called Matthed John, and the girl was named Alexis Anne.
Though both grandparents had passed away before the twins were born, the family continued to get together periodically, perhaps every two months or so, for birthdays or other social occasions. Practically every time we were carried into whatever home at which the gathering was held, Uncle Ralph would holler out, "Look! It's October and Jesus." We had no idea who or what Uncle Ralph was talking about.
I developed receptive and expressive language at an early age, and soon noticed that it was always as Matthew and I entered the house that Uncle Ralph announced the presence of "October" and "Jesus," or sometimes he said "Jesus" and "October." It eventually occurred to me that Uncle Ralph believed Matthew's and my names really were "October" and "Jesus." I knew that if I did not clear this matter up with him, chances were that he would be calling us those names for the rest of our lives, and eventually others might begins to believe, too, that those were our actual names. I pondered that matter, wondering what might have given Uncle Ralph the misconception that our names were "Jesus" and "October." I didn't know whether he thought I was Jesus or October, not that it really mattered.
Eventually it dawned on me that my mother had given birth to other twins before us who had died. My parents didn't formally annnounce this to us, as we were only about fifteen months old, but people had spoken of the other twins in front of me often enough that I had made some sense of the situation. It was perfectly clear. Uncle Ralph was confusing Matthew and me with the earlier twins. I needed to set him straight.
I quietly approached Uncle Ralph as he was seated on a couch opening a can of beer as he shouted at the TV because of something that had displeased him in the basketball game being shown. "Uncle Ralph," I said to him softly. He listened, probably because he was caught by surprise at a fifteen-month-old child calling him by name. I didn't realize it, but the room had grown quiet, and others were listening as well. "My name isn't Jesus," I told him. "I'm Alexis." He stared at me. "And he's not October," I told him, pointing at my brother Matthew, who was seated in a high chair eating dry Cheerios. "He's Matthew."
"You keep calling us 'Jesus' and 'October.' I think those were the other twins," I explained. "The ones that died. But we're Alexis and Matthew."
Uncle Ralph set his beer on the floor and covered his face with his hands. I couldn't see that the reason he was shaking was because he was laughing. He looked around for my mother, then breathed a sigh of relief when he didn't see her.
He did evetually notice my father sitting on an ottoman across the room. "Sorry about that, John," my Uncle Ralph said to my dad.
"It's OK," my dad said, "But you should probably call 'em by their real names from now on so she doesn't say something in front of her mother."
Several years later, when the aunts and uncles had just begun to fill me in on the stories of just how rotten my mom had been when she was a kid, the story of the names came out. I had a vague recollection of the confusion and of the conversation with my Uncle Ralph. When we're on the dairy and my mom is nowhere near, as at least as far away as the next county, my Uncle Ralph sometimes still calls me Jesus just for fun. Is it any wonder that I'm confuzed anout religion, among other things?