Tall, dark, and handsome; dashing, sophisticated, looking like Desi Arnaz, he was in the orientation line of professors at a small college in Palos Heights, near Chicago. Don had worked as a stockbroker in San Francisco, where he acquired the habit of wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, smoking a pipe, a slight British accent, and a gentleman’s manners. He had just completed his term in the U.S. Army. He decided to go to a college situated on the gracious grounds of what used to be a golf course. Ancient oaks surrounded the main building, and pleasant pathways led to the dormitories.
I was attending the same college. The girl’s dorm was too small, so the last eight girls enrolled were put into a large recreation room, divided by high metal wardrobes with bunk beds between them. This created a crowded, chilly, echo chamber for eight. But there was an unusual problem. The eight were two transfer students—myself and Cheryl—a nurse from Taiwan, and six disciplinary probation students, fresh from their disreputable experiences in high school.
The Naughty Six were at school for one reason and one reason only— to catch a guy. On the first formal day of college, we left the dorms and strolled down the pathways to the main building to register and pay tuition. There, sitting among the accountants and professors, was Don, every girl’s dream. After returning to our dorm room, the girls, over-excited, hormones raging, filled the room with their screams and chatter.
“Did you see the yummy professor? Isn’t he sexy and handsome? He makes me swoon,” said Marian.
“I checked and he didn’t have a wedding ring. He’s mine. I saw him first,” interrupted Nancy.
“No, I am better suited to him. You’re too short. I’m tall like he is,” yelled beanpole Elaine. They noticed my silence. “Aren’t you interested in him too?”
“No, not really,” I replied. “Not really. The guy looks good, but I’m not interested.”
They had already decided I was weird because I was a serious student. Now they were convinced. The next day they found out he wasn’t a professor. He was a student who helped the business office on orientation day. Their discussion got even hotter. Now he was even more accessible. Who could have thought?
Very good at remaining aloof, pretending to be deep in study, nothing Don did or said discouraged the girls. Even rudeness didn’t work. When pear-shaped Linda (whose shirtwaist dresses usually hid her very large posterior) came by wearing shorts, he muttered, “All women’s shorts should come equipped with rear-view mirrors.”
Don was also my brother — my very dear, brilliant, slightly eccentric, and just occasionally a wee bit superior, older brother. I planned to keep this private as long as I could. That he was my brother, that is. He could take care of his superiority all by himself. When ditzy Nancy learned his last name, she challenged me, “Why do you have the same last name?” She did not like me; she didn’t want her dream guy tarnished by being related to me.
“Because he’s my brother, Nancy.”
“No way! You don’t even look alike. He is tall, dark and dreamy, handsome and yummy, and you are blond, sort of tall and, well…. Anyway, you don’t look at all like him. You can’t be his sister. No way!”
“Okay, Nancy, you’re right. We aren’t related. We happen to have the same last name. It happens.”
“I knew it, I knew it! I knew you couldn’t be related!” she shouted, delighted. A week later, she came back to me. “You lied. You’re his sister.”
“Well, yes, I am, but you wouldn’t believe me.” “But you can’t be.”
On she went again until I said, “He is my cousin.” Again, she went away happy until again she came back to challenge me.
Tired of the game, I said, “I could tell you I am adopted, but I’m not. I give up. Don is my brother. If you don’t believe me, that’s your problem.”
Nancy was actually sweet, not too bright and incredibly gullible. One day in the cafeteria, lingering over coffee, a small group of students, including Nancy and Don, talked about names. Don, bored and looking for entertainment, said, “Marjorie has a weird middle name.”
Nancy was actually sweet, not too bright and incredibly gullible
“Don,” I said. “My middle name is not weird. It’s just boring.”
“What is it, Don. What is it? Come on. Tell us.” said Nancy, ignoring my response.
“Her middle name is Fitzy,” said Don.
“Don. Please …,” I protested.
“Fitzy! What a weird name! Where does it come from?” asked Nancy.
Don, a master of faux authenticity, could spin out specific details in his stories faster than anyone I knew.
“Well,” he said, inventing on the spot, “in 1463, our Van Drixel clan in Holland was persecuted by a strange sect called Goede Knoploze Mensen. In English, that means Good Buttonless Folk. I know that’s odd, but remember, it was the 1400s. They considered us heretics because we had buttons and because we didn’t believe a man could be perfect in this life. We were more realistic about perfection. We liked to keep our pants up. We refused to change our beliefs. They held power in the area, would not do business or associate with us, and became increasingly nasty. They began to snip off our buttons for minor infractions, like racing our donkeys through town or emptying our chamber pots out of the front windows instead of the back. We were afraid more significant penalties, like being put in stocks, imprisoned or tortured, may follow. We could even lose our homes or land.”
Nancy interrupted, “What does this have to do with the name Fitzy? And what was the name of the buttonless people?”
Don answered, “I can’t tell you their name, in case someone here in the college is their descendant. And hold on, my dear. I’ll get to the name Fitzy in a minute.”
While I glared at him for being condescending, he resumed the story, his audience in his hands.
“The clan decided it was best to move away. Everyone grieved at leaving their homeland, and boarded a ship called Groot Dik Varken. The ship was loaded—food, water, cows, pigs, chickens and goats, seeds, tools and all the personal things they could load. Since we Van Drixels like our creature comforts, I imagine the ship was overloaded.”
(The ship’s name got a grin from a professor nearby, who knew the words translated to The Big Fat Pig.)
Leaning back in his chair and automatically reaching into his jacket for his forbidden pipe, Don looked frustrated. But then he continued.
“The ship sailed through a brutal, howling storm, which took the lives of two sailors, five pigs, 17 chickens and destroyed one sail. Many possessions were tossed overboard to keep the ship from sinking. The ship sprang a leak —even the seasick had to bail water. It was a frantic time, but finally, crippled, sails torn, and filled with desperately seasick people, the ship landed safely on the coast of Scotland. There, in a rich pastured stretch of land, encircling a bay full of fishes, they planned to live in freedom.”
Don stopped here and got up. “Hey, you can’t stop now! Nancy said, “Don’t keep us in suspense. What about Fitzy?”
Don calmly went to refill his coffee cup, coming slowly back to the table. I figured he was recharging his imagination. He sat down, and on he went.
“The clan enjoyed their newfound freedom, the fertile soil and the abundant fishes. They built a village and prospered. But after nine months, a dreaded warlike clan moved nearby—the Fitzbiggons. Yes, Nancy, you can hear the “Fitz” in their name. And it was Fitzbiggons, not Fitzgibbons. For three long years, there was constant harassment, fighting, stealing and death. Our clan decided to fight. We would have a battle to end all battles. We would fight to the last man. And so it started. Intense fighting went on for weeks, first one side, then the other advancing. Bloody bodies were strewn over the fields. In the end, the Van Drixels won, killing all the Fitzbiggon fighters and razing their village. All the men, women and children were slaughtered. It was terrible. It was brutal. It was horrible. It needed to be done. At last, no more fighting. But upon returning to their village, they found a surprise. An unusual surprise.”
“What? What did they find? Was their village destroyed? Were their families okay? What about their animals?”
“Hey, Nancy! What’s with all the interruptions? Let the man tell his story,” exclaimed Elaine.
“Yes, have patience, Nancy. Their village, families and animals were fine,” said Don. “But they found the surprise in one of their huts — a baby girl. Cute as a bug. Her Fitzbiggon mother must have hoped her baby might be spared when she sneaked into a hut and put her there. One of our ancestors adopted her. The clan made a new decree. ‘In perpetuity, each generation of our Van Drixel family will give the middle name Fitzy to a girl child to honour the bravery of the Fitzbiggon clan.’ We have always followed that decree. Marjorie was the lucky one in our generation.”
Don sat back with a satisfied smile on his face.
“Don, you may be a good storyteller but you are also just plain loony,” I groaned.
“Oh Marjorie, you don’t need to be embarrassed. Just think!” said Nancy, who didn’t think very much, and, who probably still thinks Fitzy is my middle name. “Just think. You carry the names of two brave warrior tribes. Wow! You are so lucky.”
Well, I was lucky to have my brother there. We had a good year, and my middle name is Ann. ◆