What’s in a Name?

When I was a boy, my family moved to a farm in Randolph County. It was a small farm, only five acres, most of it in pasture. We had no tractor just a push mower. We owned no livestock but kept several barnyard pets. We didn’t raise a cash crop but did our share of working in the dirt. Our fieldwork consisted of pulling weeds from the many rows of green beans, Brussel sprouts, and tomatoes. We spent untold hours hoeing around potato plants, corn, and cabbage in the vast truck patch that lined the northern border of the property.

It wasn’t a huge farm but to me, it was better than Tara, the plantation in Gone with the Wind. It had its own sense of majesty and I was proud to live there. The property contained nearly a dozen ancient sugar maples, their thick branches arching over the yard, providing a cool shade on warm summer days. Gnarled Catalpa trees lined the curved gravel drive with large, green leaves and long, brown bean pods waving a gentle welcome to visitors. The house was very old and built on the highest point of the property. Its ten-foot ceilings, over-sized windows, and expansive pocket doors provided a sense of size, space, and grandeur. Several barns and outbuildings were scattered throughout the property, providing plenty of secret places for a boy to hide, play, and dream. I loved this farm.

We owned at least one of every kind of animal on our small plantation. A pig. A pony. Two horses. Several cows. There were flocks of chickens, crates filled with rabbits, dogs, cats, ducks, and geese. Our farm was quite the menagerie. And in spite of the variety and number, we named everything.

The sheep was named Tahoo.

The horses were named Sheba and Blaze.

A cow, born for the sole purpose of providing meat, was given the name Hamburger.

The pony responded to Dristan (he was named during allergy season).

I will confess that we did not provide a name for all rabbits or chickens. Only a special few were given a title, like Fluffy or Spot. The others were just called Dinner.

The dogs all received names that described their individual characteristics or personalities. The skinny old stray was named Bones. Velvet was a delicate female Fox Terrior. The stray sheepdog was named Ralph, after our adopted grandfather. One brainless dog was quickly named Stupido, after another relative who will remain nameless.

But my favorite dog was Nomi (pronounced no-Mee). By the time he entered our lives, we had run out of names. My dad suggested we call him “No Name” to save ourselves the effort of finding something that fit. We pondered this for a while and tried it for a week. No Name soon shortened to Nome, which easily turned into Nomi. And while, technically, he had No Name, indicating he had no unique quality or characteristic, he quickly became associated with our life on the farm and our love for all the animals.

Nomi was an Australian Sheepdog and Husky mix. He was a thick, solid dog. His hair was dark brown with a beautiful mane of white and tan. It was a dense coat and in the summer months he suffered for it. But when winter came, he flourished. He was a loyal friend and adapted well to farm life.

Life can be good for a boy on a farm. My most fond memories come from the summer season when the air was warm, school was out, and we had the freedom to run barefoot in any direction. Summer was rich with opportunity and Nomi was present through every adventure. While he searched the woods, I fished the river. Together, we played king of the hill on the warm manure pile behind the barn. Inside the barn, I could climb to the highest point of the hay pile and dive into the dusty feed below. I could swing on the rope from one haymow to the other; all the while, Nomi watched the play. I could conquer the tree house, a fortress to defend from the evil dog below. I would fly high into the sky and back to earth again on the old tire swing in the front yard while Nomi watched from the cool shade of the same tree.

Then there were times when we would just lay together in the cool, green grass to watch the clouds pass overhead. Nomi would lie close, his eyes on me, shifting, raising, lowering, and finally, slowly closing. His breathing became deep and I found peace in the day, his presence, and the breeze.

Time passed. I grew older, graduated from high school, and started college. I stayed on the farm, helping with the chores and attending classes. My brother and I shared an almost-converted attic space in the old farmhouse. The unfinished drywall ceilings and sawmill-rough flooring allowed winter winds to blow in and there were times when we would awake with snow on our heads. We intended to paint the drywall, someday, but until then, we had the liberty to draw all over the room. Our art was a combination of Sunday Morning Cartoons and Marvel Comics Adventures. We never got around to painting those walls.

As a college student, I would leave in the morning for class and return late in the evening. Without fail, Nomi be there to greet me, running full speed down the curved gravel drive. He would wag his stub of a tail as I climbed out of my rusty Datsun and together we would trudge to the back porch door.

But there came a day when the For Sale sign went up. It was time for our family to move. The little boys, who had helped milk the cows, feed the horses, and collect the eggs, had finally grown into men. They had married. They had moved. And now, taking care of the barns, the fences, the house became too much work and it was time to say good-bye to the farm, the garden, the animals. And Nomi.

Several things stayed at the farm when our family left for the last time: Drawings on the bedroom walls, a nail-filled cross on the old red barn (that is another story), and Nomi. He stayed there, too old to move away, too much a part of the farm to leave. The new owners told us later that he started spending more time wandering the woods and less time at the farm. One day, he just didn’t come home.

I’m 40 years old now. Many years have passed. But there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about life on the farm and that old brown dog. And my memories of that time are as sharp as if it had been yesterday. I find myself driving past the farm every so often just to see the five acres of my youth but many things have changed over the years. The beautifully maintained gardens are overgrown with tangles and weeds. The tire swing is gone; in fact, several of the majestic maples have broken and fallen. Some of the barns no longer exist and the cross has been removed entirely. And Nomi doesn’t run down the curved gravel drive to greet me.

I often tell people about the farm. It was a time in my young life that meant more to me than any other. But in all these years, I have never been able to adequately describe its meaning to me. I suspect there are some things you just can’t put into words. There are some events in life you just can’t name. It doesn’t negate the meaning. It doesn’t lessen its significance. It only represents the difficulty in expressing the depth of love you have for that time, that place, that person, that event. It is just like a young boy’s dog, the one with no name.

copyright 2005 C. Curtis Austin – a 2BlackDog Production

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