Let me admit here at the outset that this is one of those stories which most readers may decide they don't care much about one way or the other. But it never fails to send a bit of a shiver up my spine whenever I think about it. Which is why I decided to share it.
At the very least it should probably stand as some sort of evidence of the existence of a higher power in our lives, and of how we can never really know beforehand the ways in which that power might choose to manifest itself.
First I have to tell you just a little bit about Grandma Small. She died when I was a teenager, but my memories are of a small, soft-spoken woman who I always figured must have been made of sturdier stuff than she sometimes let on, given who she chose to spend her life with. (Grandpa Small is a story for another time... maybe.)
She always seemed to have a piece of candy for her grandsons when we were little; and while she belonged to a religious organization which didn't traditionally celebrate such things as birthdays or Christmas, she always made certain that my younger brothers and I got at least a little bit of something from her in the way of presents on such occasions. She helped teach me to read at a much earlier age than the kids I later went to school with, and apparently she had been quite the musician in her youth; I have a picture (shown above) of her playing guitar while sitting in a wagon my dad had as a boy, and at one point she had even performed on the popular "WLS National Barn Dance" radio program broadcast in Chicago many years ago.
What I remember most are all her animals. She was always quick to take in a stray dog or cat - I've lost track of how many made their way into her home during the years I knew her - and even provided homes for the occasional snake, lizard, raccoon, and a pigeon named George who I remember spending a lot of time talking to when I was a kid. She never got to meet my wife, but I think their mutual love of animals would have made them close.
Now I told you that story in order to tell you this one:
My father has always enjoyed working with wood; I've often considered him to be somethiing an artist in this respect, because the things he has produced over the years - ranging from practical items like rocking chairs and that big sofa we used to have in our living room to homemae Christmas ornaments and toys for his kids and grandkids and occasionally even his own amusement - has always been so much superior to so many commercially-made items sold at stores or even other people's homemade projects I've seen at flea markets and the like.
That's not just a son's pride talking, by the way. Many has been the time when I've heard people so impressed by my father's handiwork that they've asked why he never chose to go into business and try to sell some of his wares for financial gain. But with a very few rare exceptions, Dad has never asked for nor accepted money for the things he has made; he always says that he does it just for the joy of doing it, and that doing it for money would rob him of that joy.
Anyway, a few years back Dad was working on some project or another for Christmas (I forget what now) that involved including the names of my two sons and my younger brother's two daughters on whatever it was he was planning to make. As part of his planning he wrote down the kids' first and middle names in the order in which they were born: Jessica Ashley, Jerilynn Nicole, Joshua Orrin, and William Ian.
Now understand that the names of our children were picked without a lot of advance thought on any of our parts, and with absolutely no consultation whatsoever between my brother and I. There is some personal significance to each name, but they were chosen with little thought given to anything other than the individual child each name would be attached to.
But as Dad sat there looking at the names, he found himself focusing for some reason on each child's middle name. Something about them was grabbing his attention, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
Eventually he wrote each middle name down - Ashley, Nicole, Orrin and Ian - in a column, one over the other, and studied them for a while. Then he wrote down just the first letter of each name - A, N, O and I - and studied them a bit longer.
And then it came to him.
He wrote the letters down again, but this time in the reverse order of each child's birthdate: I, O, N and A.
The first name of his mother - my Grandma Small - was Iona.
Incredibly, my brother and I had somehow managed to name our children in such a way as to collectively - if accidentally - honor our grandmother. It wasn't anything that was consciously planned, simply a wild and almost unbelievable coincidence. But I still remember the look on Dad's face when he told me of his discovery - and the odd chill that went up my spine as I heard it.
I'm getting that same chill now just sitting here thinking about it again...
(Copyright 2014, by John A. Small)
In : Reminiscence