My brother Joseph was always going to be called Joseph. Mom had picked the name. Her mother-in-law Anna said the name was perfect. Anna’s father’s name was Josef, Polish for Joseph, a good Catholic name. However,Mom had picked the name from the Bible, she hadn’t picked the name Joseph for Josef or even Jesus’ stepfather. Mom had picked the name Joseph from the son of Jesse: Joseph with the coat of many colors. Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery. Joseph who became in charge of Pharaoh’s palace. Joseph who forgave his brothers and gave them grain during famine.
My brother Joseph was sometimes called Josef, but Josef was always called Jaja. One picture shows the same-named generations together: Josef’s white and thinning combed-back hair stays in place. He tilts down to look at the crook of his arm. His light blue cardigan matches the blue blanket of the swaddled turnip-face of Joseph. A tuft of slicked dark hair sticks out of the great-grandbaby’s head.
My brother Joseph was named Joseph, because of the Bible story and he shared his name with Jaja, but Joseph also shared his name with the place and date of his birth. On March 19th, 1985, Mom birthed Joseph in her hometown of Buckhannon, West Virginia, at the same hospital her United Methodist mother had her children. At Saint Joseph’s Hospital, the nun-nurses didn’t wear habits, but they were all called sister. The day that Joseph was born at St. Joseph’s a sister told Mom that Joseph was the perfect name. Before Mom could explain Joseph was named for a different Joseph in the Bible, the sister said, “It’s Saint Joseph’s Day!”
I always call my brother Joe. Joe always calls me Chris. My parents weren’t sure what they wanted to name me.
Mom liked the name Jacob. She thought that since her and Dad’s names rhymed, then we brothers could share sound, too. Our parents were Ruthie and Rich, and then we would be Joseph and Jacob.
I don’t know if Mom considered the Bible story of the twin brothers Esau and Jacob. Esau came out first, but a hand still inside held on to his ankle. Another baby, Jacob came out second. Esau grew up to be a hunter. Jacob grew up to be something like a chef. After a hunt, Esau traded his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew.
Dad liked the name Christopher. Christopher means Christbearer. Maybe it was because Mom had picked Joseph’s name or maybe Jacob was too Jewish a name for Grandma Anna, or maybe it was because Christopher still meant something about holding someone, but Dad’s choice became my name.
Like Joe, there’s a place and a date connected to my name. For every grandchild’s birthday Mom’s father Grandpa Almond would get the folded-into-a-triangle American flag from the utility closet of his house and then go outside to drag the flagpole out of the garage. He attached the flag to the pole, walked across his front lawn, removed a slat covering a hole by a chestnut tree, and then stuck the pole in the hole.
A picture taken on June 14th, 1987, shows Joe standing with Grandpa in the front lawn under a hoisted Old Glory. That Sunday, Corpus Christi as well as Flag Day, was the end of Joe being an only child. He looks confused, unaware at two years old what the day meant and unsure of a new name he would come to know.
Summers later, spent in Buckhannon, Joe and I discovered the best patches where wildflowers sprouted between the clover. We chased rabbits into the hedges. We guided croquet balls across the uneven grass through wickets. We stepped on the wooden slat covering the flagpole hole without it cracking. We climbed to the top boughs of the chestnut tree. We caught lightning bugs in Mason jars. We pointed to constellations connecting stars together.