Journal entry: November 16, 1974 (age 5)
I didn’t want to wear a sweater today, but Mom and Dad said I had to. Apparently, the Olan Mills photography studio has a dress code for family portraits, and my five older brothers were all wearing blue sweaters. The oldest two, Jerry and Jim, threw off the uniformity by wearing loud, plaid trousers, but the “team” imagery was still striking. As the photographer positioned the six of us for our first formal photo in four years, he quipped that our sweaters made us look like the Osmond brothers.
That comment prompted the four eldest brothers to revisit an old family gag, in which they introduced themselves in song, ascending in pitch like a barbershop quartet. “I’m Jerry, I’m Jimmy, I’m Johnny, I’m Bobby!” The song had been composed well before my brother Dan and I were born, and therefore didn’t include us. Jim helpfully suggested that we could follow Bob’s tenor part with a falsetto “I’m Danny” and a castrato “I’m Timmy!” I wasn’t sure what “castrato” meant, but I said I would do it so that I could be one of the guys. For some reason, this made everyone laugh, except my mom. She ordered me to pay no attention to my brothers, and straightened my glasses. Two rolls of film later, we were allowed to stop pretending we liked each other, and Mom and Dad herded us into the parking lot.
On the drive home in our Ford station wagon, Dad said, “Timmy, did we ever tell you that we almost named you ‘Terry?’” Wincing, I replied, “No, but I’m glad you didn’t. Isn’t that a girl’s name?” At this, whoops of brotherly hilarity erupted. Dad turned on his scary-Dad voice to quiet the car, and then continued, “No, it can be a boy’s or a girl’s name. The reason we didn’t name you ‘Terry’ is that it would sound too much like ‘Jerry.’”
There was a pause, followed by the voice of my second oldest brother. “So you named him ‘Tim?’” Slightly annoyed and puzzled by the request to state the obvious, Dad brusquely responded, “Yes, we did, Jim.” There was no pause this time. Laughter started somewhere in the far back seat, traveled quickly to the middle back seat, and eventually engulfed my parents in the front. The pandemonium only grew louder when Bob managed to sputter, “Good thinking, Dad!”
But it wasn’t just Dad. Mom had also lost her footing in the wilderness of rhyming nomenclature. I wonder what caused both of them to make the same mistake. Maybe they were thinking of the more formal “James,” which doesn’t rhyme with much (except, ironically, “names”). But if so, why weren’t they also thrown off by the sounds of “Gerald” and “Timothy?” I guess we’ll never know, and that fateful naming decision will remain shrouded in the mists of 1969. That leaves us eight Mollens to grapple with the frightening truth: Terry is too Jerry, but alas, Tim is nearly Jim.