Names Have Power
I first came across that phrase through Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. And it’s stuck with me. I really do like it a great deal, and several things happened this weekend that brought that phrase back to mind.
When we met with my grandmother, it was getting late into Friday night. We were in her bedroom, and all sorta gathered around her bed. Nearby, on a dresser, there was this large painting of her grandparents. It wasn’t a photograph, but was rather a big hand-drawn portrait that was incredibly detailed. In the image was a diplomatic Chinese man and his two wives. Turns out her grandfather was a diplomat from China, and was stationed in Honolulu for a time. While he was there, he met his second wife and all three lived together later in China. My grandmother’s father was born from the first wife.
Around this time, talk turns to the fact that someone in our family was awarded a Purple Heart, a long long time ago. My grandmother starts to explain how it came to pass, and tells us about her father, my great-grandfather. When he first came to the states, he lied about my grandmother. He claimed that she was his son, and the birth ceritificate that was made listed her as a boy. Later, that false birth certificate was sold for approximately $4,000 (which, my grandmother kept stressing, back in those days was a ton of money). That birth certificate was sold to another family, who was trying to bring their actual son over to the states.
Much later, around WWII, the boy who used my grandmother’s birth certificate was killed in the line of duty. No one told us how he died, but only that our family was awarded a Purple Heart as a result of his death. Given the honor of such an award, I can only assume that this person died bravely. After we all heard this story, I joked with my grandmother, telling her that, technically, she won a Purple Heart.
When we all asked about what happened to the medal, she didn’t remember. No one knows where it might be. I then asked my father about my grandma’s real birth certificate, and how she got one after they sold off the fake one listing her as a boy. My father said, simply, "she doesn’t have one."