For a Namesake: The origins of falling well
I was named after my great uncle, Emile Folwell Legendre. Because he had five sisters, everyone knew him as “Brother.”
He died just before I was born.
“I think Brother may have invented tailgating,” my father told me. “He never missed a Tulane game. He would set up hours before, and serve food and drinks from the back of his station wagon to anyone who was interested. After the game, win or lose, he’d do it all over again. Everyone loved Brother.”
“So, is that why you named me after him?” I asked.
“No,” my father said, “it was because he was a good man.”
“He would always buy extra tickets and give them to kids outside the stadium. At an Ole Miss game in Oxford, several Rebel fans confronted Brother in the stands.”
“We’re not gonna sit next to a bunch of black kids,” they complained.
“Then you’ll have to find somewhere else to sit,” Brother said. “They’re with me.”
“Yes,” my father said, “your great uncle was a good man.”
My parents weren’t big fans of organized religion, but they loved Father Tim. He was the parish priest for a small town just outside New Orleans. He was big man with a big personality. He drank and laughed a lot.
At a cocktail party, he pulled my parents aside and reminded them that I still needed to be baptized. Out of respect and affection for Father Tim, my mom and dad reluctantly agreed.
The following Sunday, my parents dressed me in all white and took me to the church for the first time. My mom walked me up to alter and presented me to the priest.
“What is your son’s name?” Father Tim asked.
“Folwell,” my mom said.
“Paul?” he clarified.
“No,” my mom said, “it’s Folwell with an ‘F.’”
Father Tim leaned toward my mother and whispered in her ear, “Jane, I’m sorry, but Folwell is not a Christian name. Does he have a middle name?”
“Yes,” my mom said proudly, “it’s Legendre.”
“Do you mean “John?”’ Father Tim asked.
“No, Legendre, L-E-G-E-N-D-R-E,” she said.
“Jane, I’m sorry but that’s not a Christian name either,” Father Tim said with sigh.
Without skipping a beat, my mom said, “Well, his Christian name is Timothy, after you of course.”
The priest smiled, and then doused my head in holy water.
When I was in college, my father called me up and told me I needed to come home. He said Celeste, Brother Legendre’s widow, was terminally ill. He wanted me to see her before she died.
Apart from my baptism twenty-two years earlier, I had never met Celeste. The only things I knew about her were that she had earned a PhD and that she lived in Hammond, Louisiana.
When I arrived at the hospital, a nurse told me that Celeste had slipped into a coma. She hadn’t been responsive for more than two days. Sitting next to her bed, I didn’t know what to do or say. It was awkward. Finally, I reached over and held her hand. When I did, she opened her eyes and turned her head. “I have something for you,” she said.
She grabbed a framed photograph of my great uncle from the side table and handed it to me.
“I’ve always wanted you to have this,” she said. She squeezed my hand, smiled and then closed her eyes.
The next day she died.
Folwell wasn’t exactly an easy name to grow up with. Kids teased me, and adults would always ask me the same two questions: “Like Jerry?” and “Is that a family name?” (I would always respond: “No, different spelling and ideology.” And, “No, my parents found it in a book at the checkout counter at Schwegmann’s.”) I also later discovered that it was the absolute worst name for a wrestler – to “fall well” is to get “pinned easily.”
Needless to say, over the years I acquired a number of nicknames, including Foly, Fuzzy, Foz, Fu and Fubear.
Still, I prefer “Folwell,” the one from my namesake.
Folwell Dunbar is an educator and artist. He was named after his great uncle and a parish priest. He can be reached at f[email protected]
Folwell Dunbar is a New Orleans educator, artist and survivor of many things, from roaches to German U-boats and heartbreak. He is putting together a collection of these short stories and survival tales called He Falls Well (his name is pronounced “fall well”). NolaVie is honored to preview some of those stories here. Email him [email protected].