Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How I Got My Name

Things are going well. Husband will be better in 6 weeks. In the meantime I am focusing and writing and have found myself exceptionally creative.

As I revamp the blog and transition my identity I find myself thinking about all sorts of experiences I've had that I'm excited to write about - those things I am most afraid to write and which are the only things worth writing about. One of the biggest of these things I am afraid to write about is the very nature of my existence and the strange way that I ended up on earth in the first place. I've delighted in shifting my writing. I liken it to Madonna and how she always changed her image so she wouldn't become boring. I'm going from the Like a Virgin phase to Like a Prayer, metaphorically. I think Madonna was at her best in dark curls amidst the gospel choir.

I figured when writing about myself, that I ought to start at the beginning, and one of the most troubling things about my life to me, has been that I've never once, not ever, seen the two people who at some point, obviously got naked together to create me, have a friendly conversation. Never, in the entire history of the planet, have two more different people had sex than my mother and biological father, with whom I have no relationship. I have never been able to comprehend their pairing.

When my mother was pregnant with me, she was seventeen and lived in a trailer at a crossroads near a pine woods. My father, just a couple years older, was a student at a Baptist seminary, where he was studying to become a missionary and eventually a preacher. While my mother folded baby clothes and mulled over what she was going to name me, my father had a more serious struggle. Future preachers aren’t supposed to get high school girls knocked up and if they do they are supposed to marry them immediately and pretend the baby was five months premature, but due to the grace of the Good Lord, the baby was born normal sized and fully formed. My mother had little interest in marriage, but agreed to it briefly in order to get out of her parents’ home, which she found too strict and too crowded (she came from a family of six). She wanted a trailer of her own.

Once married, the reluctant newlyweds, who were disturbingly mismatched on so many levels, had a series of arguments over what to name their child. My mother had bleached blonde hair and wore frosty, blue eye shadow. She liked earth shoes and patchouli and had ambitions of selling her macramé plant hangers in a traveling craft fair out of the back of a camper. My father envisioned a life of seersucker and bowties; revival meetings in third world countries, where desperate heathens would thank him earnestly for introducing them to Jesus. He wanted to spend his weekends sipping lemonade at Bible study, whereas my mother’s idea of a good time involved corn liquor, a bon fire and the Allman Brothers. Jesus Christ to her was a curse, paired more often with “god dammit” than with “hallelujah.” Obviously, this couple would have a difficult time agreeing on anything, forget trying to come up with a mutually pleasing name for a baby.

My father wanted his child to share his initials, R.S. My mother wanted an interesting name. This was the early 70s after all and interesting names abounded. My father refused to allow an “interesting” name. He wanted a Biblical name. There aren’t a lot of choices for women’s names starting with R or S, so he decided my name, were I a girl, should be Ruth Sarah. He was quite passionate about it. My mother was correctly convinced that I was a girl and wouldn’t even think of a boy’s name. She wanted to name me Shanna Nicole, which apparently was a trendy name at the time for pregnant seventeen year olds in trailer parks in the South. Ruth Sarah was out of the question because my mother had a great aunt named Ruth who had been nasty and bitter since her husband was shot in a poker game gone wrong. Ruhamah Sheba was not much better. Finally, the couple came to a compromise. They found a name upon which both could agree. The name was not Biblical and it was not interesting. It had the initials R.S. and was plain enough to not cause Baptists suspicions that I was not actually five months pre-mature. My name was going to be Robin Sue. This was the perfect name because if by chance I ended up being a boy, which my mother still refused to even acknowledge was a possibility, my name could be Robin Sean. Everyone was thrilled.

My mother went into labor alone in her trailer by the pine woods, on a full moon Saturday night in November. It was two days before the first snow. She drove herself to the hospital because my father had since quit the Baptist seminary to take a job taking inventory in the deep freezer at a food packing plant. He worked the midnight shift.

When I was born, my mother was still alone, but her family, parents and five siblings were all clustered in the waiting room, drinking coffee and anxious to meet Robin Sue, the first of a new generation, who would hopefully be the one to correct their past mistakes and elevate the family to a more respectable status. The family was a bunch of screw-ups, save for my grandmother, a proper, Catholic, French war bride. They all took after their father, my grandfather, who drank and caroused and entertained, but none of them had finished high school and none had settled on any type of career. The youngest, my Aunt Kiki, was 13 at the time and already showing a keen interest in moonshine and southern rock. She would drop out soon too and have her own babies. It was not that my mother's family were bad people, because they weren’t. They were jolly drunks; glorious red-necks with generous, genuine spirits, who were invited to every party in town because they were so much fun. My grandfather was the most fun of all of them. There wasn’t a person in Millpond, even the uppity Baptists, who couldn’t help but crack a smile when he was around. He had an unusual way of transcending the rigid social class structure of the town, which no one before him had done. He could drink with the mayor, the owner of the meat-packing plant where my father worked in the deep freeze, and he could have just as good of a time with the employees at the Scrapple factory or the black men from Green Top who transported trucks of live chickens with him, to the processors. My grandfather was a truck driver, but he should have been a politician for his talent at bringing so many different types of people together working toward to common goal of having fun.

For the six months before I was born, Poppop, as I would call him, had been out of commission. He had back problems resulting from a war injury where he was shot in the war and a bullet lodged in his spine. The doctors told him he would never walk again and the pain was excruciating when he tried. He took to bed and brought the party home. Since he had been laid-up, the bars in town had seen a dramatic decrease in business. When he received the call from my mother, that his first grandchild would arrive that night, he got out of bed, pulled on a pair of pants, zipped up his boots, went outside and started up his pick-up. He walked into the hospital and into the waiting room, his amazed wife and children too stunned to say a word. My mother didn’t know because she was screaming and cursing in the delivery room.

When the nurse cleaned me off and presented me to my mother she informed her that she was a lucky girl.

“Your baby was born with a caul.” The nurse said.

My mother looked at the white membrane covering her baby with horror.

“Don’t worry hon, it comes off in a little while. Its very rare and its extremely good luck. Some folks think it means the baby will be magic, like she’ll be able to tell when storms are coming or if company’s on their way. Babies born with cauls grow up to do great things. That’s how come you don’t see very many of them. Not enough people do great things in this world. No siree. This little girl has a special destiny. I believe it.” The nurse explained. “What’s her name sweetie?”

The way my mother tells it, the second she learned she had a magical baby, she knew she couldn’t give me an ordinary, plain cream of wheat sounding, innocuous, stupid, argue-ending kind of name like Robin Sue. Who the hell ever heard of a great leader with magic powers named Robin Sue?

“I didn’t decide yet.” My mother replied.

“Honey-bell, you’re Daddy has been outside this whole time and he is about to beat down this door to see his little grand baby. Can I let him in?”

“My daddy is an invalid. He can’t even get outta bed, much less come all the way to the hospital. Must be somebody else. You musta got them mixed up.” My mother said, confused.

The nurse went and asked him who he was.

“He said his name is Junior and if you’re name is Sissy, then he is most certainly your daddy, and sweetie, he don’t look like an invalid to me.”

My grandfather walked into the delivery room and took me in his arms. My mother almost passed out. She said she couldn’t even say anything, she just let him hold me and they both cried for a good long time.

“What is her name?” he wanted to know, after he had mopped up his tears with the handkerchief he kept in his pocket.

"I am naming her after you."my mother replied.

My grandfather thought she was naming me Junior or June, but of course she wasn't. She named me my grandfather's proper name, the one he was never called.

The worst irony of this story was that my grandfather wasn't really a Junior at all. His mother was an ignorant, fifteen year old girl from a pig farm who didn't know, or wouldn't tell, who her baby daddy was and back in 1926, this was not good. My great grandmother actually took the secret to the grave, leading me to believe perhaps she'd been molested and my grandfather was a product of incest. She ended naming my grandfather after the doctor who delivered him, who, incidentally, delivered the offspring of livestock more often than the offspring of human beings. My grandfather was sent to a foundling home, where his name became a huge joke and everyone called him Junior to be mean and make fun of the fact that he would never know his dad. For the rest of his life no one called him by his given name until it was printed in his obituary when he died and no one in Millpond knew who the obituary was for.

My mother did my grandfather a great justice by naming me after him because in that act she not only honored him, but also validated his name and who he was. He was good enough to have a Junior himself and on me, it wasn't a cruel joke. I am really, really proud to have my grandfather's name, although I know that I also share the name of a man, somewhere in the deep south, who, a hundred years ago, not only birthed calves and lambs, but also the occasional person.

Now, my name isn't even close to being Robin Sue, so you can well imagine the rage this caused my father when he got off work and came to see his new baby, but by then the birth certificate was signed and recorded so there was nothing he could do. I've often wondered if this was the start of his rejection of me, because things only got worse when my mother brought me home.

37 comments:

tazzie said...

That just goes to show you what i've always said. Fathers might not be anything more than a sperm donor, but Grandaddies are the best thing to take their place in your heart!!! I miss my Grandaddy so much to this day.

luvpumpkns said...

i was *certain* you would tell us at the end...sneaky sneaky! great story though. your novel is going to be just great.

Tina said...

Great story! Very sweet.

I know you probably can't, but it would be cool if you could put some of your old stories back up- some of them are so funny. Can't wait to read the eventual book!

Anonymous said...

What a classy tribute to some incredible people!
Tell us, when is your autobiography going to be published? You are one unbelievably great writer. I can't wait to read the rest!

chasmyn said...

I love this! I cannot wait to read more.

China Doll said...

Aw! I was really excited to find out your name, you are a tricky lady!

Love the recent stuff, you're on a roll.

Calitri said...

My parents had planned, discussed and decide. My name was going to be Brian, a popular name at the time of my birth as well as present day. There were no less than four Brian's in my neighborhood growing up.

I was born on a snowy, March afternoon and when they laid me in the cradle of my mother's arms, I stare up at her. She looked deeply into my bright blue eyes and for a moment we were alone in the world. The moment passed and she looked up to see my father, a beaming smile plastered on his face complimenting those same bright blue eyes. It was then my mother decided I had to be a junior.

Vic said...

"Write what you know." Every writer has heard that a thounsand times. You're latest entries very much prove the point. Compelling. Thank you.

Sparkling Cipher said...

Okay, that one's a killer. Now I won't stop wondering. Do you have a boy's name or one like Robin that goes both ways?

In any case, every time you write about your mom, I like her more. It's a shame your biological father didn't understand how special it was to give you your grandfather's name. Maybe a sign that the ministry really wasn't the occupation for him?

Jean said...

I would SO BUY a hardback written by you, writing what you know. And if you knew me, you'd know what big measure that has!

booda baby said...

Proof enough that this is what you should be writing. I am very interested to watch/read the fictional version.

Robbi said...

I just recently started reading your blog and love your writing. Just wanted to comment to say that my name is Roberta Sue, and I go by Robbi. I know that Robin Sue didn't end up being your name, but I thought that was interesting how it was so close to mine :)

MP said...

...hmm, your writing is better and more interesting AFTER you quit, how can that be?

ME said...

WOW... I am captivated... Hope to hear more of this story... Thank you SOOOO Much for not stopping this blog...

ADW said...

I am so glad you came back - in any way at all.

Architect Critic said...

That is a fabulous story. I can certainly see where many of your religious beliefs (or not) come from. Your father is an interesting character, and I feel a little bit sorry for him. As a previous commenter said, he probably doesn't belong in the ministry if he wasn't strong enough to keep his pants up. Now, his disappointment in himself has become deep-seated resentment which unfortunately is coming out as anger toward you and your mother.

Not that that is any excuse. There is no excuse for any real man to be a lousy father. If he has any strength of character or faith left, he needs to ask forgiveness from God, you and your mother, and find the strength to forgive himself. Then he needs to do anything he can to try being a good father and husband.

Sorry, I don't mean to presuppose your situation or family. I'm not a counselor. I'm not even a father yet. But I am sick and tired of men who don't take responsibility for their actions and abandon their families - either physically or emotionally.

I'm glad you seem to have turned out well, no doubt a result of the rest of your family. Your writing and stories are very good, and I look forward to hearing from you again.

Anonymous said...

I love your stories and they keep getting better! I particularly enjoyed sharing your stories with others and would love it if you put your old stories back up! I'm so glad you are still blogging though, makes my day when I get to read a new post. Thank you!

Dippy Chick said...

Excellent, excellent entry. Write that novel, girl!

Charlotte said...

You're a gifted writer. I love this blog even more now!

Junior said...

My moms given name is William Faye, but she goes by Billie..

and I'm a proud Junior myself..

Anonymous said...

Powerful stuff. You are blossoming yet again.

Thank you, this story was just what I needed. I am rewriting a term paper for a history professor and wanted a break... went to your blog for diversion and was delighted to find a new post. You can write parody very well, yet it's the real life content that shines through. There's a world of subjects and observation out there for you. When you finally leave Wide Lawns (and you will) your fans would surely love to keep reading something/anything that you would like to share.

Zu said...

You had a caul. That's cool, my grandmother was also born with a caul and she always knew when someone was going to call or come for a visit. I love your family stories. They are the best.

LeeAnn said...

Very nice....I can't wait for more.

Gucci Muse said...

Very nice! You are showing a different style and it flows.

Enjoyed it very much.

Mrs. Qball said...

What a wonderful post, it is great to hear from you again.

Siu said...

More than ever, I think this post goes to show, you can be a writer. Well beyond than just dishing the scoop on the ne'er do wells of Wide Lawns. I think this is one of my favorite posts yet. Thank you for sharing

Dyanne said...

Loved it...write the novel. And I especially loved it because I do know your name! lol

You have a gift--you are a storyteller (I spent the last 4 months studying the profundity of storytelling via Elie Wiesel in Berger's class). You, my friend, have story magic. Write the novel. I can say I knew you when... :-)

nandy said...

While I've enjoyed your stories about the nasty rich people in Wide Lawns, I LVOE your stories about yourself and your family. They are richer than anyone in Wide Lawns.

JDogg said...

Great narrative there, I'm very happy to see the voice that has been inside of you break out and get the stories told.

Dayngr said...

You're right! Your life is so much more interesting and you have a wonderful way of telling a story. You've got me hooked again.

she said: said...

I wish the best for you. You have been an enjoyable read - even though I haven't checked in for a while.

You were one of the few bloggers I read from my cell phone, and now I'm bummed to see you go.

Anonymous said...

Your story made me cry. How absolutely marvelous to have come into this world and be handed into the arms of a man who refused to let "bedridden" interfere with his love for you.

On a lighter note, my mother once announced at a fancy dinner party that she almost named me after my father. I chimed in to add that "Maureen" had a much nicer ring than "You Old Bastard".

I'm so glad that your husband is going to be okay. If something happened to my husband I'd jump out a window. Granted, I'm on ground level, but you know what I mean. ;o)

~Maureen~

Anonymous said...

lol where's ur saturday blog woman! j/k i've been checking on here like 10 times today. hope all is well.

Kore said...

This was a fun post to read. I was born in the late 70's, and I've got one of those interesting names, myself. I've been wondering if I could guess your name. Edwina? Jeri? Mauricette?

Suebe said...

What a wonderful story! I love how you draw a picture for us all. How special to be named for your Poppop!

Can't wait for more!

The Cleaning Lady said...

having a caul is called being "born with the veil", which is american folklore (as far as I can tell), but it does mean the person bearing it is almost always female and precognitive to some small degree. One could historicly call you a witch. personally, I'd take that as a compliment.

good stuff, from the heart.

Anonymous said...

Where are these old stories? I just found your blog and HAVE to read them!

Snow in November, in Florida?

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