Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Si vis pacem, para bellum.

I was named after a dead guy — worse than just dead, he committed suicide. In the early 20th Century Fred Denman, a 50-something artist wacked himself with a gun because his life sucked. I guess. Did I mention that he was in his 50s? Did I mention that I’m in my 50s? I’ve been dreading this decade my whole life.

Frankly I don’t know much more about him than I’ve just written. Odd, isn’t it, that my family would detail to me those salacious specifics and no more. He was my grandmother’s brother, or was he her uncle? I recall my father telling me it was her brother my father and I were named after, but that doesn’t make much sense now. She wasn’t likely to have a brother in his 50s before my father was born. At any rate she must have cared very deeply about old Fred Denman because she name my father after him, and he named me after himself.

Fred means peace. I like to say it’s the oldest hippy name. Peace. Pax. Paz. Pacem. Fred. In Sweden they still use the word Fred for the word peace, but they pronounce it different, like Freed. The word is very ancient and comes from the pre-Germanic Norse language, it’s an old European name not much in favor these days.

My father also was an artist, seems Grandma managed to implant that meme along with the name. That said, my father wasn’t a peaceful man. From the large scar across his forehead, also bequeathed to him by his mother —he was a disobedient child, and she rewarded him with a slap across the head with a fire-poker — his lack of peacefulness predated his battles with war and alcohol.

We had what is today called a dysfunctional family. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the modern term. Shell Shocked is the old term. We called it “Dad’s mad,’ or “Mom’s trying to drive dad crazy.” Usually alcohol was involved. Like an accelerant might be used to make a fire burn more vigorously, alcohol made my family more colorfully and dramatically explosive: children shoved through walls, fists smashed through walls, dishes shattered on foreheads (there seems to be a forehead slapping theme to all of this).

My father’s family wasn’t the only branch of the tree that liked to do battle with Demon Rum. Mom’s family, too, had a proud tradition of alcoholism. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that I have gone a round or two in the ring with booze.

I didn’t name any of my children Fred. It seemed to me that we’d played the peaceful name out. Did I mention that both of my grandfathers at one time were professional boxers and soldiers? Maybe Fred was just meant for violence-balance, a bit of peace to butter the pugilism, a bit of the ying for yang. My first child I named Kendra: One who knows. The second is called Asa: The healer. My last child is named Colin: The cub or the future. I’ve made peace with my past.


©September 6, 2010 Fred Dodsworth

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