LOIS HOLT: Names Are Meant to Be Kept Straight
I didn't come from an unusually large family, just six in all. And, by that time, we were no more than a short branch on an overgrown, misshapen and badly gnarled family tree.
As a result, I have never had any interest in researching the genealogical archives in the Search Room at the State Library in Raleigh.
I have seen fairytale-like pictures of family trees, those with large, flawless red apples, bright green leaves and a trunk firmly rooted in a wide expanse of thick, lush grass. But never have I seen one standing in the middle of a barren furrowed field or in the yard of an abandoned farm house.
There were 10 children on my mother's side and 12 on my father's. My mother was the oldest of five girls and five boys and, being the first grandchild, I called them by their given names.
My father, on the other hand, was in the second set of 12 children sired by Lucius Thomas Riley. Although I can remember sitting on my grandfather's lap and eating a biscuit soaked in spoon-bending coffee and half cream, I can't tell you what the man looked like.
By some accounts, he was slow to anger, a man of few words and seldom moved to outward signs of emotion. Others spoke of his quick temper and his ability to pick a man up off his feet with one adept and deadly hand.
Of the six belated children born of the union with my known grandmother, Fannie Smith Riley, Uncle Clyde was the sweetest, followed by Lucius James, distant and detached, my father, Luther Edward, twins, Lester Lawrence and Lacy, and the only girl, Lena Elizabeth.
Even the youngest of the first six was 15 years older than my father, making it a small wonder I can remember David Lawrence and Eugene who lived in West Durham. There were also two close nephews who were brothers, Coy who lived just off Broad Street and Wallace, who lived outside of Aberdeen.
Four other half-brothers, Weldon, Arthur, John Colbin and Norfolk lived somewhere between Burlington and Haw River.
Admittedly, my parents didn't always get my name right the first time. But after running down the list of some near kin (Lena, Nellie and Susan); they would eventually end up with Lois.
I made it easy on myself and put large painted wooden letters (a D and an M) on my sons' bedroom doors. While this was contrived on my part, their young friends loved it. One, in particular, assumed authority by pointing out the apparent, making certain that a new playmate knew where the line was drawn.
It became a sign of distinction. And, because of that, some bewailed the notion that their parents obviously didn't know who they were. Otherwise, their rooms would be a singular space, cleverly identified. My father must have felt the same way.
I thought I knew everything there was to know about Luther Edward Riley. But, when I was at Oak Island at Easter, I heard something I had never heard before. We were, as always, laughing and talking about the family when Daddy quietly said, "Papa never called me anything but 'Boy.'"
I had been married for six years when my son, David, was born. The delay was calculated and deliberate. I had seen too many of my friends pregnant and often left alone in the first year of marriage. Most had children ready to start school when my second son, Mark, came along. It was not a decision I ever regretted.
Nor did I ever regret the choice of names. Both came from the Bible. The name David means "beloved," and the name Mark means "strength."
My father will be 97 years old in September. I don't know if his nickname, Luke, can be linked to the Book of Luke. But, in our judgment, he is clearly a son of God.
Contact Southern Pines freelance writer Lois Holt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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