I love old photos –and once in a while one will float to the top of my
consciousness – or desktop, as was the case here. (Actually, I found it
on my baby brother’s facebook page!) This is surely one of my favorites
though I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what was up with Sammy.
From left to right, I (Diana Leigh) stood with my little brothers, Guy Allen (whom we called Sammy) and Ronald Gene (whom we called Chuckie).
If these nicknames make no sense, you are obviously not familiar with the old Southern tradition of nicknames. I can attempt to explain. Unlike “Mike” for Michael or “Susie” for Susan, Southern nicknames rarely make sense. I think somewhere along the line, our forefathers got “nickname”
confused with “codename,” hence the nonsequitur.
That tradition has faded. I think it was one of those Title III or XXXVII kind of federal government rules handed down by the high court of the land somewhere along the way – that said people ought to be called by some semblance of their given name. So Sammy and Chuckie fell by the wayside and we have long since begun to call them Guy and – well- ok, family still
call Chuck “Chuck,” though the rest of the world calls him Ron.
And I answered to a variety of code names ranging from “Tee-tah,” (a baby brother’s bastardization of “Sister” that caught on in the entire family) to the more common “DianaLeigh,” a more common and rational moniker that is still used by old family friends to this day.
This snapshot was taken sometime around 1965, because I was at the first of several awkward ages – about eight and a half – when one’s nose grows faster than the rest of one’s body, and arms and legs are at that spaghetti gangly stage… (Ah, to be gangly once more, I dream!)
In this old picture, I have a hair style that could only have been achieved by sleeping in those bristle-y old grey brush rollers affixed to the scalp with pink plastic spears, something I only got to do on Saturday nights when Mama wasn’t using the hair net.
I was still wearing lacy nylon socks with my good shoes. We were obviously getting ready to go to church because Chuckie is wearing his clip-on tie and Sunday School attendance pin. I HAD a Sunday School attendance pin, too, but it was probably in my Barbie shoe box.
But for the life of me, I am not sure what’s up with Guy in that picture. Obviously he was not going to Sunday School that day, standing barefoot up against the car, nursing what might have been a red ant bite on his arm .
Truth be told, that grimace may have been our fault. We tortured Sammy.
We were much more conniving than that.
We would “look” at him until he would squeal.
Then someone would call out “What are y’all doin’ to Sammy?” And we’d say, “Nothin’, Mama.”
Somewhere along the line, someone said, “That little Sammy has a rubber tail and he squeaks when anyone steps on it.”
From then on, we could answer, “Nothin, Aunt Robbie. The devil musta stepped on his rubber tail.”
While we were all born the old fashioned way to our Mama and Daddy, Guy grew to an age of insecurity, believing everything his older siblings would tell him. Chuck and I would whisper that he was not really ours.
And so we’d torment him – weaving tales of buying him from gypsies at a carnival. In our story, he never had slept on a real mattress until we got him. When he was a baby, he had to sleep in the back of a greasy truck on a bed made from stuffed animals filled with sawdust.
This store bore some truth in his mind and ours, because our Grandma never let us vie for those prized plush toys at the carnival that set up each year at the Confederate Soldiers Reunion out at Camp Ben McCullough because she said, “Those teddy bears are filthy and filled with bugs. You know those carnival gypsies – they make beds from those toys for their children to sleep on.”
Since Guy was the third of three children, photos of him as an infant are rare. At that point, our mother was working full time and raising us and keeping food on the table, so photographs were a luxury reserved for Christmas, Easter, funerals and a rare vacation, if at all.
So it made sense that we didn’t have pictures of Guy as a blue-eyed, tow headed baby. (If it was any consolation, we told him we had to pay the gypsies much more for him than for a plain ol’ brown-eyed boy like Chuckie.)
So, in spite of a perfectly legitimate birth certificate and my clear memories of his birth at the Hays County Hospital, this picture does appear to be worth a thousand words. This was the day Mama dressed us up and we went out to buy a kid from the gypsies. And, yes, this was the one we picked out.
Could anything be more devastating to a little boy?
That is a fundamental difference in boys and girls. Girls raised by their birth families (is that how one would frame this concept?) probably won’t admit that we have all had snippets of daydreaming of the day we find out that this is not our REAL family.
We are really the daughters of wealthy and exotic jetsetters, right? Folks who simply didn’t have time for the tedium of child rearing but as soon as we get to an appointed age, we will go back to our rightful lifestyles. And we will never again be forced to wear nylon lace socks that slip on the heel, and our mamas wont have to sit us in the high chair on the porch and give us home perms and trim our bangs with the kitchen scissors.
We have flashes of that dream well into adulthood as we transform the dream from waiting for the limo to arrive to take us to our REAL home – and we begin to pray that surely we are not going to wake up one day and be five baby steps from flat out crazy like most of the other women of our family. We rationalize that what appears to be the dominant family gene is simply not going to pass on to us because we are not scientifically genetically related to these crazies.
But we are.
Still that doesn’t keep us from going back and studying old pictures, trying to figure out who we are, and looking closely to see if we can see clues that will lead to who we are going to be….
When we grow up.