Here’s the story of how come my grandma was named Avis.
In the early part of the twentieth century a disgruntled farmer who didn’t want to have to pay a property tax in order to fund the local public school blew the school up, killing a bunch of kids.
One of the girls killed was named Avis.
In honor of her, my grandma’s brother asked that my grandma be named Avis.
Well, my grandma was born in, shoot, 1917, I think. (Might have been 1918.)
Bridgett reminded me that it was most likely the Bath School disaster that my dad was thinking of (unless there was some rash of school explosions in Michigan before World War II) and that happened in 1927 and none of the girls who died were named Avis.
Myth? Busted. Truth? Unknown.
Here’s another story about my dad. His middle name is Kim.
When people ask him why his middle name is Kim, he tells them it’s because in 1945, one out of four babies born on the planet was Chinese and he’s the fourth kid in his family.
Overlooking the faulty logic and ooky racial politics of such a statement, Kim is not even a Chinese name.
He claims he was named after a “Chinese” doctor on the behest of my Uncle B. because this doctor had done some good work on the polio vaccine. But, even if this were true, that there was some Asian doctor of indeterminate origin who worked on the polio vaccine, my dad could not have been named after him because my dad was born before the vaccine was developed. In fact, my dad was born long before my uncle contracted polio.
So, why would my Uncle B., a very young kid with no vested interest in polio yet, have insisted my father be named after a doctor who worked on a polio vaccine that did not yet exist?
Speaking of weird things about my dad, I think I told you that he’s pretty homophobic. Two things changed his mind: AIDS and Shug. AIDS in that all these gay men came back to rural Illinois to die and, after they did, my dad discovered that he was the only minister in town willing to do funerals for gay AIDS victims. That broke him, in a good way, but it broke him, to realize that he, an admitted homophobe, was the only option these families had, because the rest of the churches in the community were turning their backs on them.
And Shug. My dad adores Shug. If Shug’s a lesbian, then he’s convinced he’s been wrong about lesbians his whole life. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is a great lesson in how important it is to live as far out of the closet as you’re comfortable with–it really does change some people’s hearts.
Also, bless my dad’s heart, sometimes he says stuff that makes me cringe, like about Colored People’s Time and about how all black preachers go on too long and so on and so on.
And yet, when I see him at annual conference or when he comes down here for his meetings, he’s the only white pastor I see who’s asking black pastors if they want to go out for ice cream or to grab some coffee, and not because he wants them on some committee or to head up some program, but because he really gives a shit about them as people and it bothers him to see them standing off by themselves.
If you listened to my dad talk, sometimes, you might think he was a typical benevolent racist liberal and yet, when someone in his friend’s congregation tried to kill him by trapping him in the church with the gas stove jammed so that the gas was pouring into the church, it was my dad who drove to their house every evening and sat with them and watched the kids when the adults needed to talk to the police and he was the one who bawled out the DS and got the family emergency moved. No one else bothered, just my dad.
I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. It’s just never easy to understand what makes other people tick, even the people you’re closest to in the world. Even when they think they’re telling you the truth about themselves, sometimes they are wrong.