Nicknames. Why do we need them? Nicknames give us a greater source of recognition. Life revolves around our names. Names grow on us. I grew up believing nicknames are mandatory and necessary.
In the 70’s, the Tousana Family moved to Markham, the far south suburbs of Chicago. Realizing they need space and landscape, my parents moved Mugsy, Round Table, Scout, and Cricket to a neighborhood that sort of reminded my mom of home. Fast moving city life was too much for them to handle.
Our small town felt a lot like southern Mississippi but with paved roads. Backyards had gardens with a minimum of 5 rows across the back gates connected to the alleys that were eventually closed off to traffic. We grew everything. Corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and other greens, onions, all kinds of peppers, okra and there were even attempts to grow watermelon, cantaloupe, and other fruit that wasn’t so keen of the soil.
The gates surrounding the houses were where we introduced ourselves to the closest neighbors. We can tell which families were from the south by their names. Introductions were emphasized with preferred names. Usually their nicknames had an entertaining story to go with. Our driveways were parallel to wire and flimsy gates.
My siblings and I needed permission to play pass the length of the gates. Hanging out in the driveway was my favorite spot anyway. Jumping rope, playing street dodge ball, and hop scotch was not my thing. I rather sit by my father’s side and help fix cars. Or as the old schoolers used to say, “Shoot the shit.” As we sat and discussed everything under the sun, the background noise would be filled with kids yelling and running across the width of our driveway.
My sister and her best friend would be at the end of the driveway jumping rope, clapping and singing over and over again. Their screechy voices repeated the lyrics, “Step in the water, boom bop, water was cold, boom bop, chill my body, boom bop.”
Sometimes my father would say, “Cricket go get me a beer.” My sister would stop jumping and run in the house, get a beer, I would pop the top, pass it over to my father’s shaky hands. All the while my sister is in full motion back to jumping rope without missing a beat. That was the routine. If I went into the house to get the beer, my sister would freak out.
The time seemed to fly when my father and I sat together. Even if we didn’t talk much and the basis of conversation was commands such as “Start the car Scout, I’m done.”
Asking questions was what young Scout enjoyed the most. Fixing cars, memorizing the names of tools needed to repair the green monster was Scout’s passion. Scout named it that because it roared loud, choked and growled as it rolled down our street.
My father gave me the nickname Scout. A keen sense of awareness, undeniable persistence is what Scout represents. Embracing my nickname was not a challenge. Playing with dolls and having tea parties is what our society say girls should do. Fixing cars is what I wanted to do. Being a girl wasn’t enough. I was defiant of the girl code.
My father was my secret weapon. While my sisters and neighborhood kids busied themselves with girly things, I sat beside my father’s toolbox. When he needed a tool, he would say, “Scout pass me the wrench.” I would passionately lift the wrench with both hands and proudly hand it over.
While sitting for hours, rearranging and handing off the screwdrivers, pliers, duct tape and hammers, I would say, “Dad, why people so mean.” Before he can answer, I would bombard him with more questions. Hyperventilating, talking fast and stumbling over my words didn’t excite him at all.
No doubt, I was daddy’s little girl. Mugsy, Round Table, and Cricket had special relationships with our father too. The difference is that they weren’t as needy. Mugsy, my brother took the role of the protector of his little sisters. Round Table, my older sister took the girl power leader role. She had a way of making dinnertime fun. Eating was not her thing. So my younger sister and I had a good time watching her cheeks grow before she runs to the bathroom. Cricket, my younger sister had a spunky and quick-witted personality that kept us all on our toes.
Growing up, I never thought nicknames had meaning. I really didn’t care. All I knew was that my father chose to not call my siblings and me by our birth names.
By my late teens, we were all in our own way about life. While my siblings busied themselves staying true to character, I was still lingering around my father. My mom did her best to get me to move on independently.
Riding shotgun to my father’s job to avoid public transportation to college in Downtown Chicago was the last straw for my mom. She would say, “Chris, you’re going to regret letting her jump in the car with you.” “Let her be.” He would smile a big pearly white smile with a cigarette stuck to the corner of his lip and say, “Let’s go Scout.”
The one time we didn’t pick up his coworkers slowly walking the last stretch to the train yard, my father seemed distant. To break his concentration, I finally asked the question my father thought would never happen. I blurted out, where the name Scout comes from? He paused, smiled and asked had I heard of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird? I wasn’t sure if it was trick question, so I said nothing. My father suggested that I read the book.
To Kill a Mockingbird represents two Scouts. The little girl is experiencing the story but the adult Scout tells it. Drawing comparisons to a story that is not supposed to be comparable is what makes my nickname dynamic. My father, the electrician and Atticus, the lawyer careers are starkly different. Scout in both relationships has a special father/daughter bond.
Losing my father early in life forced me to grow up fast. I wasn’t bitter about his death because I felt our short time was more than some people get from dads with more years. Often times, I would look to the sky and say, I’m going to make you proud. And use his favorite phrase “Watch out.”