FROM NOVEMBER 24, 2009
Many of us are embarrassed by our middle names. Well, my “middle” name happens to be my first. It’s what people call me. But my given first name is Alvis. All official documents show one’s first name. Those documents have just never seemed to understand that I go by my middle name, David.
It was not easy growing up with a first name like Alvis. Every year on the first day of school when the teacher would read off her seating chart, “Alvis,” all the snotty little kids in my class would laugh.
One morning, the day after I was the lead scorer on my high school basketball team, the daily newspaper printed the following: “Elvis Moon led all scorers with 16 points.” Yeah, you can imagine what happened to me at school that day. “YOU ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog!” “Shake those hips, ELVIS!” Not to mention the ribbing from my older brother. It was brutal for a young, shy, insecure teen.
This is Thanksgiving week. Thanksgiving is such a wonderfully simple holiday. It’s a day to just give thanks. Of course, I’ve never actually prepared a full Thanksgiving meal. Still, I am thankful for many things. I guess we all are really. Right now, I’m kind of thankful for my first name. My Mom always told me that she thought about naming me David Alvis Moon instead of Alvis David. That might have made my adolescence go a bit smoother if she had. She didn’t want my initials to spell “DAM.” But, you know, if I had Alvis as my middle name, I may have, over time, forgotten about that name altogether. That just wouldn’t have worked for me.
I love that name. I love it because Alvis is also the name of my grandfather. He is the greatest man I have ever known. Today, November 24, is his birthday. He would have been 105.
I asked him to loan me a hundred dollars one time when I was in college. He said, “Okay. Do you want cash or a check?” I was just so happy that he was going to do it, that I said, “Granddaddy, it really doesn’t matter to me.” He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You don’t want to fuck with a CHECK, do you?” I don’t remember what I said after that. I think I blacked out! I didn’t even know that he KNEW that word.
Okay, so saying “nuts” is acceptable, and using that other word that one time is not a bad thing. But it’s the closest thing to a bad thing the man ever did – in my eyes anyway.
He was a thrifty guy. He could go all week and use only one toothpick. When he finished picking his teeth for the day, he would break off the end of the toothpick and store it in the cuff of his trousers to use again after his next meal.
He once figured out how much it cost to flush the toilet, and would allow my grandmother to flush only once a day.
Look, I could go on and on about this man. How strong he was. What a tireless worker he was. How he never spoke badly about anyone. How he is the only true “Christian” I have ever known. “We’re all God’s children,” he would say often. And, he was a great pool player.
He had 5 daughters and 16 grand children. He never spanked his children. And he lived during a time when spanking kids was never even questioned. He once saw one of his daughters spank one of his grandchildren in his home, and he laid down the law. There would be no spanking of children in his house.
When one of us youngins’ would cry at his house, for whatever reason, usually our moms or grandmother would deal with us. That was, after all, “women’s work” back then. All my granddad did at those times, all he could do really, was cover his ears, look toward the ground, and walk away, shaking his head the whole time. He hated to see one of his youngins’ in pain. And when there were no “women folk” around, he would somehow make each of his grandchildren feel so special. He always did for me, anyway.
Last weekend, I was with my son and my grandchildren. I was helping Matt and his family move, but my main job was to watch the kids while he dealt with moving issues.
Being around kids has, for the most part, always come naturally to me. I don’t know what it is really, but it seems that I have a knack of sorts for knowing when a kid needs attention. And, for the most part, I know how to turn a kid’s sour mood into a smiling face. I also just seem to know when a child needs to brood, and needs to be left alone. When a child is in pain, it’s almost like I am in pain, too. When a child has something to brood about, it’s almost like I do as well. Somehow I know how to deal with that pain and brooding. There were a few times I had to deal with hurt and upset children while helping Matt. It was a piece of cake really.
Driving back from my son’s last week, I was reflecting on how good it was to hang out with that family. My thoughts wandered in and out of every moment, issue, engagement, wisecrack, laugh, kid’s tear, fear and hurt – everything that went on during those two days. At some point I started to ask myself some questions. Where the hell did I get this “knack?” Why is it that I am so comfortable comforting a hurt child? Where did this come from?
As a child, I had plenty of adult role models. My mom and her sisters were all pretty good with kids. I have one special aunt who was extraordinary with not only us nephews and nieces, but with kids in general. Driving home, I at first thought I got my knack and comfort from Aunt Barbara. My mom and her other sisters are wonderful, but come on – none of them are Aunt Barbara. So where did Aunt Barbara get her extraordinary stuff?
My grandmother was a loving and comforting lady to us grandchildren. But there is something special about Aunt Barbara – something my grandmother didn’t have. And there is something special about the way I feel about kids. Where? How?
My thoughts last weekend then turned toward my granddad. Unlike my grandfather, I can cuss with the best of them. I am not a thrifty guy. I’m not a strong man, and I have a major lazy streak. I have spoken badly about many people through the years. I’m a long way from being a “good Christian,” and I am a terrible pool player. But on the ride home from my son’s place, I realized where I got my love of kids – that knack – from the same place as Aunt Barbara. I got it from Granddaddy Mangum. And that’s the same place I got my name.
Matt, Zach, Sammie, Jessica, Brian Waters, David, Drew, T-Bone, Harrison, Sharod, James, G-Man, Carter, Justin, Dustin, Brian Whitfield, my little basketballers on the Aggies, Tigers, Blue Devils and others, and all the young ones who entered my life from time to time – well, they have been my life, y’all. Now young Rachel, Sy and Seth, my grand youngins’ – they are my life. Without all those little ones, I would be a terribly bitter and sad old man. Without that knack I got from my granddad, I would never have known the real joy of being around youngins’. My Aunt Barbara understands.
I am thankful this week and always. Simply for my name.
Happy birthday, Granddaddy. And Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.
(Since I wrote this in 2009, I have come to feel with all my heart that one of the most wonderful kids I have ever known is also my grandson. His name is Jovan. I call him Joe. He is my granddaughter’s cousin.
Also – my youngest grandchild was born after I wrote this. His parents call him Princeton or “PJ.” To me he is simply “Sweet-P!”)