I’d like to be a Namer. If talents and charms were given out, you’d choose you one that’s important and would be rewarding to you (but maybe one that hasn’t been thought of yet, or is an esoteric gift, like the lady in Paxton who undoes knots in anything---string and shoelaces and yarn and necklace chains and those beautiful beaded hangings on Great-Aunt Ursula’s tiny bedroom chandelier which you loved and coveted, but which has been in a box in your attic since she passed it on).
Or my darling, beloved Aunt Cilla in a rakish teenage pose in the thirties, her ensemble and hair as straight out of a movie as the seams in her hose.
What about those children clustered around in little chairs in the old family pictures, in white gauzy dresses and all-just-alike overalls, or in such buttoned-up intricate outfits and boots that they look as if they should be in a doll-shop window--are they ancestors, or great-cousins with all those firsts and seconds and once-removeds attached, and we’ll never know their names, save for a long list of Born-Tos in a dusty Bible or in a great list of poetic-sounding names in an impersonal Internet Family Tree. And who’s to put which name with which little face gazing, if not into the future, at least out at us OF IT, who gaze back and wonder who they are. We can’t just lose those people of our pasts as if they just whispered away with that last breath---they were important.
So. Of all the gifts of magical hue---the healing and the knowing and the telling of time to come---I’d like to be able to look at a face and tell you the name. Those folks who live on in Sepia, the withered, creased memories pressed between dark album pages for more years than they lived, and whose names and deeds died with those who loved them---they deserve a memory.
I’d love to come to your house and look at your old pictures, pointing out the little boy who ran away at nine and became a part of a War not his own. And the black-clad young man standing quietly removed from the others in the shade of the porch, having been sent to live with the elderly Aunt and Uncle when his folks died in The Flu; now that THEY are gone, who are the WE of him? There’s surely a staid, unsmiling couple sitting before an urn of flowers, their wedding day commemorated only through this one graying image, and their faces set in the grim lines befitting a momentous event.
But every now and then, there’d be a smooth-faced young girl, curls to her shoulders and the slightest hint of a smile as she gazes serenely into the left-distance---I hope that her wish or wonderful secret came true.
I’d know their names, every one, their times and places and what made them laugh, and remember the time your Mama told you about her three cousins who came for the Summer and never left for four years? Or what about all those aunts and Uncles that nobody in the family knows which was who, though two of the brothers married twin sisters, making a whole gaggle of children double-first-cousins. I could sort ‘em out for you, like naming off the cast of Cheers.
That’s who I’d like to be, that Namer, that straightener-out of family ties, that rememberer of relationships, that helper-to-know.
And we’d write them all on the back; for complicated pictures, we’d trace off the shoulders on paper and put numbers in little circles for faces, and we’d make a neat chart below with names to match, tucking it into the frame or album for searchers of the future.
If I could. If only I could. Wouldn’t that be a FINE THING?