We don’t answer our landline (phone) very much these days because it’s usually telemarketers or, most recently, political messages. For Becky and me our iPhones have become our traveling offices and communication centers. I’m not advertising “smart phones,” but these personal computers and cell phones are better mouse traps and are truly windows on the world.
However, when the “unidentified” call came in, for some reason, Becky decided to answer our home phone. It was an unusual call and truly from an unidentified caller. There was no heavy breathing, just a series of questions to verify that the caller had reached the right James V. Ferguson. You see, the mystery caller wanted to return a long lost personal keepsake and had only reached our home number through a Google search of Jimmy Ferguson’s in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Names are very personal items and not only identify the person, but also, in some ways, describe them. Names were very important in antiquity and often helped define a person. The same philosophy is operative in our friends from Burundi, who I’m happy to report have just passed their American citizenship requirements. They came to America seven years ago as legal refugees from war torn Burundi and Rwanda and had to wait seven years, pay a lot of money and pass citizen examinations to earn their place alongside the rest of us. In their native land their names were given to each child to echo a parent’s loving aspirations.
Anthropologists believe Paleolithic man drew pictures on cave walls of the animals they hunted to capture the spirit of their prey. It is thought that these picto-graphic drawings in Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain were done to aid the hunter who perhaps needed an edge to be successful in the hunt and thus survive. And because writing had not yet been invented, perhaps stone-age hunters were honoring the spirits of the beasts which would be sacrificed to provide man life-giving sustenance.
The caller wanted to speak with Jimmy Ferguson. I have joked with Becky over the years that the only people who call me Jimmy were the ones who knew me before puberty. Though I carry my dad’s name, I no longer use Jimmy. And I rarely write “Jr.” at the end of my name, now that my dad has passed on, thus ending the confusion. When he was alive I came to use M.D. at the end of my official moniker, though the IRS still knows me as Jr. Perhaps I should call Lois Lerner and clarify this point.
Thanksgiving is a time of family and friends where we celebrate life and blessings, and remember those who made this great country possible. Thanks-giving is just that. It is a time of gathering and tradition. It’s a time of feasting and story-telling. In other Focus essays I’ve spoken of my namesake. My dad was a warrior in WW II; a naval aviator who flew a Dauntless SBD bomber from the bobbing fight deck of the aircraft carrier, Yorktown. He was the patriarch of our family and an architect of tough love. Fortunately, my mother tempered his steel with her loving softness or his boys might have carried scars rather than the enduring lessons of life built on the foundational principles of honor. Growing up, my brothers and I were blessed to have the best of both world views, and this Thanksgiving we are blessed to still have our mother with us.
In recent years we’ve come to associate negative principles with certain names. Americans have learned what it means to become “Kiffened,” after the infamous Lane Kiffen. Just this last week a media person wondered if America has been “Gruberized” by the deceitful Jonathan Gruber, the architect of Obama-care. My dad was honest to a fault and taught us that you are a man of your word or you are nothing.
“Mrs. Ferguson, after talking with you I know I have the right Ferguson family and I need to explain my call. Nearly forty years ago I was in your in-laws’ home as a friend of a friend of your husband’s brother. (confused?!) I was loaned Mr. Ferguson’s Navy cap, his flight jacket, a flyer’s scarf and his Naval Aviator bracelet for a Halloween costume party. I returned everything the next day and went back to ETSU and the rest of my life.
Recently, my Mother passed away and while going through and cleaning her house I found an old box of my swim medals. However, in the bottom of the box was a tarnished bracelet, apparently left absentmindedly in my pants’ pocket and found by my Mother while doing my college laundry. The memories came flooding back when I saw the bracelet and that’s when I began my internet search to return this keepsake to its rightful owner.”
My dad’s Naval Aviator bracelet is not a fine piece of jewelry. In fact, I never knew him to wear any adornments other than a ring. It’s simple and silver and festooned only with the easily recognizable Naval Aviator Wings emblem. However, on the reverse side there is an inscription which reads, Jimmy V. Ferguson.
The inscription was like a time machine drawing me back to my youth and my father’s home. The keepsake reminded me of my roots and reconnected me to him. Apparently, as a kid and even as a young adult he was a Jimmy. I only knew him as Jim (and, of course, Dad). Now, it seems I have something else in common with Dad besides a feisty temperament. Now, Jimmy will always be a name we share and a moniker of the honor he taught me.
And the loop was closed this Thanksgiving as we returned the special bracelet to its rightful owner, my mother, Pat. It is said that we are all a product of our past. We are all thankful and blessed to be the sons and family of Jimmy and Pat.