Our family has been expanding. To our one kid, two dogs, and fifteen fish, we have added two boys, two bikes, and a scooter. Our nephews, Mark and Christopher Gallegos, have moved into our home in Montevallo while their mother recovers from some health issues. Amazingly enough, we have been able to move enough junk out of our small house to carve out two new bedrooms and two more places at our dining room table. Virginia Woolf’s insistence on the importance of a woman’s having a room of her own seems relevant to the situation of Mark, Chris, and my son, John David. Certainly, these three boys deserve and have rooms of their own, but they also merit places of their own in this column.
When all of my family and friends considered names for our children, we tried to imagine how the names we chose would fit or maybe influence our children’s development. As Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy notes, when his father considered his potential name, he imagined that “there was a strange kind of magic bias, which good or bad names, as he called them, irresistibly impressed upon our characters and conduct.” Tristram’s father wondered how his son’s name might affect his development. I remember my sister-in-law, Dana, remarking that her infant son “looked like a Mark Anthony.” As it turns out, Mark has grown into his Shakespearean heroic name by taking charge of matters such as scary Halloween costumes (makeup done by a friend and neighbor, Michaela Martin) and the distribution of household chores to do each boy – washing the dishes, mowing the lawn, feeding the animals (dogs, cats, and fish). And if something is lost, everyone, including me and Dave, turns to Mark for help finding the missing items, ranging from car keys to school assignments.
“Just Plain Christopher”
The process of making sure that everyone has a place to eat and sleep has led me to think about places in our family. At this moment, my family l live in Montevallo, Alabama, the small town where I grew up and where my parents still live today. But our family has existed long before now and is apparent in the faces and mannerisms of everyone in the house.
John David and his New York cousin Rowan, have inherited the mannerisms and facial features of their Alabama grandfather they call Papa, and they share Papa’s love of reading and solving any kind of word puzzle. On the other hand, every time I look at my nephew, Christopher, I am reminded of his aunt, (my sister-in-law, Chrys). Besides the redundancy in their first names (when Christopher was a baby, family members joked about “big Chrys and little Chris”), they share a resemblance to their grandfather, Harmon Percival (HP) Burns.
Christopher has inherited the stubborn independence of his great grandfather who, toward the end of his life, insisted on driving more than one old car from Butte, Montana as gifts for his daughter (David’s mother) in Amarillo, TX, never once stopping to sleep in a motel. At age 12, Christopher longs for the day when he will be able to drive at all. He shares his great-grandfather’s passion for studying, watching, and eventually (he hopes) buying cars. He also responds indignantly to anyone who suggests modifying his name in any way. He will accept Chris, but rejects “Stopher,‘ and prefers (as he loudly proclaimed when he was just five or six) to be known as “just plain “Christopher.” Christopher also shares his great grandmother Claire’s love of animals and has happily accepted the job of making sure our animals are fed and loved.
John David aka JD
My son, John David and my mother Sandra are also animal lovers, but JD didn’t inherit the automobile fascination found in my husband’s side of the family. He does share a love of music with his two cousins who sing, play instruments, and entertain us all with their own theatricals. When John David was an infant, my department chair, a performer himself, predicted that if we gave my son the nickname, JD, he would certainly be a musician. The prediction has proven correct in the sense that JD has indeed become a talented pianist and singer, but I am not sure of the extent to which his nickname has contributed to his talent and abilities, or if his musicianship has caused people to adopt the JD moniker.
Whatever the cause, JD has been rehearsing for a part in a musical at his school, and his cousins have joined in and offered to sing along with the performance, even though they attend a different school. JD’s and his New York cousin Rowan’s love of music, art, and writing comes from me and my parents, but JD and his Alabama cousins inherited their musical talent and love of animals from David’s grandmother, Claire Merow, who taught herself to play the accordion and adopted and cared for various animals, including turtles and wild birds.
The Memory is a Living Thing
I will conclude my description of my family now and in the past, with Eudora Welty’s statement in One Writer’s Beginnings about family history: “the [human] memory is a living thing – it too is in transit. But during its moment all that is remembered joins and lives.” The memories we are creating flow into and out of the memories we keep from our own past and our various hopes for our futures.
– Anna Lott, PhD
Anna grew up in Alabama, spending her entire childhood in the same house where her parents still live today. Anna is a retired Professor of English and Women’s Studies from the University of North Alabama, where she charmed her loyal and adoring students for almost twenty years until a bad MS exacerbation convinced her that she should start spending her days playing games on her iPad, reading and writing whatever and whenever she feels like it, and watching the birds feed outside her window.