Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Thomas--that is my name

I was recently in Washington for a writers' conference. There is much to say about that, and I will share a couple of insights... but first, this: I was in Lauren Winner's small group and she had us do an exercise, ten minutes, on our names. For better or worse, this is what Iwrote:

Thomas—for the doubter, twin sons of different mothers, different times. My grandfather was a Tom, too, a railroad engineer, always between places, with a powerful engine beneath him but governed by uncompromising tracks. A boozer, probably; a philanderer, I’ve heard. Made his peace with Jesus before he died, the cancer an open sore and putrid, a sweet aroma to God.

Ray—for my dad. Just Ray. Thank God not Lassister, which was his given name and pronounced Lassiter, but even at that not his legal name. Born at home, his mother, Mama Steagald, sent the neighbor girl with news of his birth to the courthouse, there to register her newborn pup, the last of the litter, sixth of six. The girl wrote “Raymond Ovis” on the birth certificate, after her boyfriend at the time. Dad never knew who he was, not till he was drafted into WWII. The Army pulled him aside: “Raymond Ovis?” strong-armed him when he didn’t answer to what he didn’t know was on his paper. He had to pay, hire and lawyer and pay, hire a lawyer and go to court and pay to have it put back right.

Steagald—it is pronounced STEE-gald, and when people get it wrong, the telemarketers and parishioners, my students and my bishop, I feel wrong. Like they know better than I. Like I don’t know who I am. Like I don’t know what to believe. Like Thomas. Like Ray. Like all the Steagalds.

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