Al Batt: Have you ever accidentally misspelled your own name?

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

It’s nice to have a name you can remember.

I live a mile from where I was born. I had no choice. My mother said nuts didn’t fall far from the tree. I grew up amid people named Nelson, Olson, Hanson, Sorenson, Knutson, Gulbrandson, Jacobson, Peterson, Madson, Thompson, Hendrickson, Larson, Jenson, Erickson, Swenson, Christenson, etc., and I still have difficulty pronouncing names that don’t end in “son.” I’ve managed to get my last name right over 83% of the time, although I misspelled it on a condolence left on a funeral home’s website. Somehow, my fingers turned me into Al Barr. “Check your work,” my teachers constantly reminded me. Did I listen? Apparently not. I’m sure people were wondering, “Who the heck is Al Barr?” Probably fewer than would have been wondering, “Who the heck is Al Batt?”

I used to see all the good folks with a “son” ending to their names at the local cafe, where the next meal was always free, before it closed. That was a black day.

Johnson is a fine name, but if your last name is Johnson, you might want a first name that’s a little different so you’d stand out from the herd of Johnsons. Or you’d want to be named after an elderly relative who was rich. 

We had a neighbor named Odd Johnson. Odd is a good name coming from the Old Norse word oddi, meaning “point of land or spear.”

There is the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal lodge with the historic command to an Odd Fellow to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” The reason for the name Odd Fellows isn’t known or documented. One explanation is that the original Odd Fellows were men engaged in various or odd trades that were unable to find the security provided by a trade guild, union or the Masons.

Back to Odd. Odd was peculiar, as are all men. He had his ways. When he acted goofy, he wasn’t acting. Odd is a common name in Norway, but not in Minnesota. Odd Johnson hated his first name and became madder than a wet hen when anyone called him Odd. He preferred Johnny Johnson or Johnson.

Odd never married. He managed to accumulate substantial wealth. Some claimed he could do so because he hadn’t married. I don’t subscribe to that theory because my wife reads this column. It’s safe to say that Odd wasn’t free with his money. The leather of his wallet saw much more light of the day when it was on the cow.

Odd had no children, but he had a passel of nephews. He couldn’t remember their names, so he called each one “them.” When Odd reached the age where his check engine light was always on, he began to wonder how the world would survive without him. He called his nephews together and told them if they wanted to maintain a place in his will, they needed to follow his instructions exactly.

Odd told his heirs that he wanted the tallest, gaudiest tombstone they could find placed at his grave at the little cemetery just outside of town. He further stipulated that the marble have no information engraved on it other than his last name and an image of his face. Odd was a handsome fellow in an odd way. He detested his first name to such an extent, he promised to come back and haunt them if they put it on his monument. His nephews believed him.

When Odd shuffled off this mortal coil, his nephews did what Odd had asked.

If you should drive by that cemetery as a minute percentage of the world’s population does each year, you might notice the towering gravestone sticking out like a sore thumb on a white horse. The sun glints off the stone, demanding your attention. You might stop to investigate. Many do. You might get out of your car and walk to the headstone where you’ll be awed by its immensity and elegance. You’d notice the shortage of names and the lack of dates. You won’t be the first to do that. You’ll state at the etched face.

You’ll say, “That’s odd.”

If you listen hard, you’ll hear Odd spinning in his grave.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.