MY NAME’S NOT SUE, BUT CLOSE. (A Legacy Story)
There’s more than one interesting story about my full name. My first name was the most interesting, and I have had the most fun with it.
Johnny Cash, rumored to be a third or fourth cousin of my biological dad, Lloyd J. Godwin, is not proven, but the resemblance was easy to see in looks, but not dad’s singing voice. Johnny sang “A Boy Named Sue“. This song was about a dad who left his family after naming his son Sue. It was his intention that his son would grow up tough enough to survive due to the many challenges the name would provoke. It was comical, but a little like what my father did to me.
I am here to tell you that my father claimed to have named me Joyce after a black prize fighter he fought in the 30’s. Dad began the story saying it was his last fight (though he didn’t know it at the beginning of the fight). A big and fearsome looking, black, prize-fighter stepped into the ring and this was during a time that boxing was still segregated so it was a well-attended fight due to its unique billing of integrated boxers.
Dad’s name was announced, “Red Fight ‘em Godwin” (I am still unable to figure out how he got this name since his hair was so black it was almost blue, and his eyes were a bright Paul Newman blue.) I imagine it could have been a reference to his quick spit-fire temper. I can picture how my dad must have pranced around the ring acknowledging his “fans” as he was quite the lady’s man.
Then they announced his opponent’s name. This fearsome looking “colored” man (which was the accepted term used in this time period and in Oklahoma) was named “Joyce”. Dad claimed his reaction and that of the audience was unrestrained laughter, and let me tell you my dad had a wicked, irritating laugh when he was making fun of something. I can still hear it in my mind all these years later. Whatever his response and that of the audience, it turned the offended boxer into a whirling dervish. My dad always took care to protect his face (after all he was often called “Pretty Boy Floyd” after the famous gangster who had died just four years before and was buried in Oklahoma.) “Joyce” made mincemeat of my dad’s face and made a short fight of it to boot.
It was after that fight that my dad, with his two black eyes, busted lip, bloodied nose and wounded pride, approached my grandpa that very night asking permission to marry my mom. Never mind the fact that she was just sixteen. It is also worth mentioning that my grandpa, Arthur Marrs, was so strict he thought Sunday School parties were vanity and wrong, so there had been no dating. My dad also had to convince my grandfather that his fighting days were over and seal it with a promise to become a sharecropper with my grandfather which involved lots of “cotton picking and tending”. Grandpa had been adamant his daughter was not marrying a fighter and he only saw sharecropping as a proper way to earn a living.
My dad and mom lost their first two babies, a boy Lloyd Jr. and a girl, Estella Frances. When the third child was born, my sister Trula, my mother named her after her Sunday school teacher. Trula White. When I arrived, it was Dad’s turn to name a child. For my first name, he chose Joyce after the greatest fighter he ever fought (and I believe he had created a legendary boxing status for the man who beat him and caused him to leave boxing.) Marie, became my middle name after his old girlfriend who was a nurse. (This could be construed as foreshadowing of my future career, or at least one of them.)
Like many young couples who make “fussing and fighting” their means of communication, these two would periodically run out of things to fuss about. Then, my name would pop up. They could always get into a good one about the nurse and prize fighting. Of course, my dad disliked church and ‘such stuff’, so when the Sunday school teacher came up in conversation, they were off to the races again.
This legacy of verbal battle would become a standard among many of our family members and its legacy is not always a positive one. I have no doubt that throughout our southern family, many such stories exist, but this one is mine.