What’s in a name?
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
Richard “Sonny” Torres loved to give people nicknames. This is one of the habits he acquired even as a teenager.
For instance, his younger brother’s name has been his nickname since he was a small boy. His name is Andres Torres, but his folks named him “Buzzy.” Well, Sonny didn’t think that plain old Buzzy had much pizazz so he renamed him “Poker Joe.” It was a great nickname, but most of his friends and cousins sill called him “Buzzy.”
Sonny thought it over for a few years and then he changed Buzzy’s name to “Pasquale” Even that name didn’t last for long so Buzzy is still known as Buzzy.
My older brother came into this world with the first name of Anthony. The family called him Tony. Sonny thought that Tony was a bit tame so he named him Tuna. That nickname caught on so that even some of Tony’s closest friends started to call him Tuna. But of course names and nicknames don’t stay in Sonny’s mind too long so the next thing we knew Tuna had been re-Christened “Tuna the Bass” by Sonny.
Many years prior to that my sister Lillian, sister Shirley and I lived with my Aunt Mary, Sonny’s mom, while my father and older brother Tuna were working on a farm in Greeley, Colorado. One day my Aunt Mary and her sister, my mom Lupe, called us all together and said that my Dad had sent some money and he wanted me, my sisters and my cousin Sonny to hop a bus and join him and Tuna on the farm in Greeley.
We were all excited about getting out of Rapid City and seeing some new sights. Buzzy was standing there when we got the news and he wanted to come with us so bad that he started crying. “I haven’t even been to Pine Ridge,” he spluttered. He is very thankful to this day that he did not come with use because the place my Dad called a farm was one big sugar beet field and that is where we were headed.
When our bus arrived in Greeley we disembarked and stood in front of the bus station looking like lost pups. Just then a pickup truck pulled up and a man got out, walked up to us and started speaking Spanish. Sonny immediately replied, “I’m sorry sir, we don’t speak English.” The man looked a little puzzled, but he herded us into the back of the truck and we were off to the sugar beet fields.
We worked in the blazing sun for about a month without a day off. And then one Saturday Sonny said, “We are going to the movies tonight in Greeley and I don’t care what your Dad says.” Well, Dad was quite cooperative and in fact even gave us the money for a movie, popcorn and a coke.
The movie we saw starred Loretta Young. She had taken in a bum off of the street and gave him a plate of food. As the man chowed down on his food Loretta asked him if he want more. He said, “More meat.” That was enough for Sonny because he realized that the man in the movie was a dead ringer for the owner of the farm we worked on and his name was Mr. Sweet. He would never be Mr. Sweet to us again because from then on he was “More meat.”
One morning we woke and Sonny and my brother Tuna were gone. They made it to Highway 25 and hitched a ride back to Rapid City. That left me and my two sisters to work the rest of the summer with my Dad. He took us to a movie in Fort Collins one Saturday and the theater owner sold us our tickets and as he handed them to us he said, “Indians and Mexicans must sit in the right-side aisle.” My older sister Lillian was furious, but soon discovered that there was not a damned thing she could do about it. We sat in the right-hand seats.
My Dad kept us working on that farm into late October until one of the farm owner’s children turned him into the local authorities because she was mad that we weren’t in school yet and she was.
We were put on a bus the next week and made our way back to Rapid City. There were no child-labor laws back then so children worked as many hours as they were told to work. It was a hard, hard summer for us, but in the end, it brought us closer together. We learned to stand up for each other.
Sonny continued to handout nicknames. He named my older sister Ethel “Olive Oil” after a character from the Popeye comic books. He now lives on a farm in Nebraska and I am sure he has chosen some good names for the horses, cows and for his favorite pets.
(Contact Tim Giago at firstname.lastname@example.org)