Bridgett Unfounds a Family Myth

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.


It’s Korean.


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.

22 thoughts on “Bridgett Unfounds a Family Myth

  1. Do you even read me any more or do you just skim my posts for the things you can grouch about?Anyway, let me explain.Sometimes I will use a specific example to indicate something larger. My father lives in all-white communities and has appointed himself ambassador for all Black people to these communities.THAT’s the problem, in my mind, not the specific ways in which he exercises his ambassadorship.Unless he has been appointed ambassador for all Black people, in which case, I apologize to him for wondering about his public relations strategy.

  2. Heh. Excuse this long-ass comment, but I can’t put it over at my place. My family reads my blog and I’m not in the mood to self-edit this little tale to avoid (another) dust-up of its contents.When I was eight my family couldn’t pick me up from my paternal grandma’s summer camp on time because my mom’s grandma had died. So I had to go to my grandma’s house for a few hours and hang out. This grandma, bless her heart, was a doctor but was also the single most eccentric person on the planet and she scared me half to death. I never knew how to relate to her. She had adopted my dad and his brother when they were babies, and at this point (unbeknownst to me) had been contacted by the birth mother who wanted a relationship with her grown sons. My father and uncle (again, unbeknownst to the 8 year old in the room) had refused. And my grandma saw this as a golden opportunity. She started telling me a bunch of things about my birth grandparents. They were Jews who had just barely escaped Nazi Germany by coming over her in 1932. They had caught tuberculousis right before my uncle was born and couldn’t raise him because there were so many tuberculer people in the house. So they put him up for adoption and were still sick two years later when they packed up my dad. Because of that story I spent TWENTY years of my life telling people I was half-Jewish and trying to "rediscover" my Jewish roots. I studied with Rabbis. I learned Hebrew. I learned Yiddish. I made Jewish food. I had a quasi-Jewish wedding ceremony. Eight years ago my uncle’s wife began talking with the half-siblings who had stayed behind. It was from my aunts and uncles that we learned the true (and far less romantic) story about the polygamy thing. My adoptive grandmother had figured if she told me some romantic tale that I would relate to my father it would pique his interest. It didn’t. But I DID get to spend twenty years of my life lying to people all over the world, including myself. People are wierd.(Oh, and Kim was a very popular name for men in the first forty years of the century because of Kipling’s book.)

  3. Damn, KC. I echo the "wow", above. Although, I have to give Granny high marks for playing a cruel hoax on a child.Good pick-up on Kim, btw.As for B, I’m not piling on the whole "Bad Daughter" thing, or "ibna (bint) sayyi" as we say in Mohammedan lands. It just seems like you are going after Dad for being the unreliable narrator, when it just as likely could be you.

  4. All right, I’m sorry. That was needlessly harsh and uncalled for. Clearly, I need to take some time between replying to this thread and replying to the other thread.Sorry. That was shitty of me.

  5. Your Dad sounds like a Minister who actually cares about people, not just their money. This is what I’m pretty sure God intended when He set this whole universe thingy in motion. BTW, I didn’t get from your post that you’re looking down your nose at your Dad. I adore my Mother and she’s one of my heroes. That said, she drives me fucking nuts and I bitch about her almost daily. Some people don’t get that you can bitch about someone you care about and it doesn’t mean you’re looking down your nose at them.

  6. My goodness, Katherine, that’s quite a story. I’ve got a lot of family who shade the truth for a good story or (more often) to make the story more palatable to them. But that’s beyond anything we’ve come up with. You must ahve been quite shocked when you learned the truth.You weren’t lying to people, though. Lying implies intention, and goodness knows you had no intention to speak untruths.

  7. My mother never lied to me about her previous life, before she married my father…she just left a lot of chapters out. For example…now, this is not going to blow your mind like Kat’s story and it’s certainly not on that level, by any stretch, but, it’s rather interesting and I was 35 before I found out that….my mother was married to the bass player of The Champs. Ya know..the "Tequila" Champs. She still does not know I know this. Her nephew (old enough to be my father) told me this AND that there was another husband before him.

  8. My Grandparents secretly ran off and got married when my Grandmother was 15, but then returned to their seperate homes that night and didn’t tell anyone for the next 3 years. My Grandfather was away working(during the depression) and in the meantime my Grandmother dated his brother. The brother asked her to marry him repeatedly and she always said no. He got really pissed off and they never really got along.Once my Grandfather came home and they "came out" to their families they had 5 children in 5 years. The whole family corroborated their story over the years and agreed that it was a complete secret and no one knew.

  9. Wait. Your grandma dated your grandpa’s brother while she was secretly married to your grandpa?! That’s crazy.I’m loving these stories.

  10. Wow. Sista and Saraclark. Man, aren’t our old people interesting? I just love stories like these because they make that distant past seem more colourful than I ever thought it was.

  11. That does sound very Tennessee doesn’t it.I always liked the part of the story when my Great Uncle R complained about trying to get my Grandmother to pay more attention to him and take him seriously romantically, when she blew him off all the time. You’ve got to remember that at that time dating involved buying the pie she made at the local pie supper and maybe getting a dance. Great Uncle R always claimed that he was so angry about the secret marriage that he joined the Navy in WWII and never permanently lived here again.Sista-you need to get your Mom liquored up and talking. She had all kinds of interesting adventures.

  12. OMG, you told your Dad I am a lesbian???? Is that why he’s no longer sending me money to be your friend????

  13. Shug, I’m sorry. You had to take one for the team. He was saying something stupid and I had to say "What if Shug heard you say that? How crappy would you feel? And you saying shit like that justifies to other people saying shit like that that Shug has to hear. Do you wan to hurt Shug?"And, of course, he doesn’t, because he loves you.Sorry about the loss of income, though.

  14. Avis is still in the top 1000 for girls’ names in the US, though it’s hanging out in the lower 700s.My family are outrageous bullshitters (and I mean that in the most loving and admiring way). I think that’s what made me interested in history as an interpretive practice; I cut my teeth among people who know ten thousand ways to tell a true story. The great-great granddaddy in the CSA. (Not so. He was 8 when the war ended.) The guy who rode with Jesse James. (He was a mean sumbitch, but he didn’t.) The sailor uncle who won a USO samba contest with Deanna Durbin — ok, so that one might be true…

  15. Man, I come from a seriously boring family! The most scandalous thing in my past was that my Church of Christ born and raised paternal grandmother eloped with a smokin’, drinkin’ Methodist soldier (my grandfather) during The War. She had her mother scrambling to make all the "proper" gestures so that everyone would know that it was a legitimate union and that Grammie was not in "the family way" or anything sinful like that! They got married on Jan. 1, 194?. I think it must have been a new start for her.

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