Saturday, November 16, 2013

Numbers and Names (A Baby Book)

When my boys come home from college, and they and their friends take up occupancy in my garage studio, I force them to play a silly game I made up when they were younger. It is called “Five Easy Pieces.”  The game originally consisted of naming five things. The first three were “What would you would take from a burning house…your favorite books, art, and music?”  Then I would ask “What would you do if you found out you were so insured that you had a million dollars?” The final question was, “If someone had to describe you in one word or a short phrase, what would it be?” This game led to a lot of really fascinating conversations and arguments. Eventually we evolved it. Now people just point and ask someone to name their five favorite musicians, TV shows, movies or whatever someone else in the room aims at them. Anyone in the studio can stop and say, “Five Easy Pieces,” and ask a question at someone. The results are still fascinating.

Recently friends on Facebook have been playing a game where someone assigns you a number and you have to reveal that many things about you that no one knows. My friend, Ron, gave me an easy number…3. I revealed that I was born left-handed but was changed when I lived in Florida. I told that while I have a large American Bulldog, one that I have to carry around because she is afraid of the rain, my real pets are a three-generation  family of swallows that live outside my house that come to sit on my shelves and chirp at me when I have the garage door open. The final thing I told was that I used to play club soccer when I went to Illinois and played rugby for a bit too. I never did sports as a kid, but under the encouragement of a friend I learned I could.

In the spirit of “Five Easy Pieces,” here are two more things about me. I have one foot that is about a size and a half bigger than the other one. My family always teases me because I wear multiple layers of socks to make my shoes fit. The last one is this. I can take a stack quarters and balance them on my folded elbow, then flip them and catch them in an open palm. I was doing it the other night and my son, Matthew, asked why I kept practicing that trick and I said, “My grandmother taught me how to do this when I was nine. We saw a guy do it on the Johnny Carson show.I figure if I still can do this then I can do anything and everything else follows.”

The other day I was going through photo albums and my Baby Book so that I could send a picture to my older sister, Melissa, in honor of her birthday. I thought of five words that I wanted to use to describe her. I came up with cute, compassionate, caring, creative and cherished. Melissa has always been my citadel. Whenever the world looked fuzzy, she was there to make it clear like some beacon in the night.

I talked to her today for about an hour and it was a joy to hear her voice again.

We laughed a lot because she and I both have funny stories about our names that most people don’t know. When she was born my mother wanted to call her Elizabeth. My father insisted that she be called Melissa. Melissa was the name of a little girl who used to come into the hospital where he worked in the drugstore. She was always there because one of her relatives was upstairs and she couldn’t visit. He made her sodas and sat with her.  My mother and father would lovingly disagree on many things but she let him have that one because she understood.

Later on Melissa fixed the disagreement. When she got married to one of my best friends and was confirmed in the Catholic Church she took Elizabeth as her saints’ name. Melissa Ann Elizabeth Corcoran is a hell of a good name.

My name is Thomas Garl Sharpe. I was named partially after my father, Garl Murdock Sharpe. As I got writing and this last summer started thinking about submitting things for publication, I thought I would use my full name. Matthew, my middle son, asked me to please not because when he is ready to publish something he wants to use his full name, His name is Matthew Garl Sharpe. He carries it proud. “Try to find something else, Dad,” he requested. “Tom Sharpe is fine, or maybe initials,” he said.” I sighed and replied, “Yeah, but there is a popular British author that has the same name of Tom Sharpe. I don’t want confusion...I really hope that someday soon this is an actual  problem for us to think about.”    

When I was I was going through my Baby Book I learned five things about my parents, myself, and my siblings at the time. The first thing I learned was that when it comes to Baby Books my parents, like many, were pathetic. How many pictures or videos did you take of your children? According to how they kept my Baby Book up, my life ended at five.

The more I thought about it that was when more kids were entering our lives and we were moving all of the time because Dad was getting successful. Now that I am a father and was away from my kids a lot, I understand. I feel bad. Meredith, my youngest, probably wonders why she does not have a good Baby Book or videos of her. There’s lots of uncollected photos and now stuff about her all over the place on Facebook but none of that other stuff, which I think, because me and Karen are present, she is pretty cool with.

Looking through my Baby Book, I learned how much my older sister cared about me even when I small. Here is us:

She always kept me upright.

I also learned about the code of you taking care of your younger siblings. This is me and my younger sister, Stacia.

I am the the blonde kid in the middle who always wore dress shoes because his mother made him. She grew up just after the worst of the the Depression and never wanted me to have bad she did.

The most striking thing I got from my Baby Book was that I was not, as I thought, named after my father’s brother, who was named Norman, but was always called Tom. My mother had a friend and liked the name. Wonder what that story is. She left us too early; Dad is gone now too. I’ll never know.

I also found out that my parents apparently had a disagreement about my middle name. I never realized it but Dad did not want me to have to carry his name because it is kind of different. Garl is a tough handle. A lot of people think I am just misspelling “Carl,” …as they did for him too.

He had something else in mind. Something not a whole lot better. I carry his first name proudly, and I gladly gave it to my son. I do like what he tried to do, because it was in tribute to his mother, who died when he was three, and her maiden name.

This is a page from my Baby Book:

I think I have some more thinking to do but I also think Matt and I have resolved some questions. I have published before but I‘m getting ready to publish in more serious places  I think like my sister, when she adopted the name Elizabeth, which I was proud of when she did, I will adopt a new name. In honor of my son and my father, Thomas G. Murdock Sharpe is a damn fine name to publish under.

I haven’t exactly given you five things, but like with most things in the world I"m comfortable with that. The fifth one is always the hardest to answer.