McCutcheon moves past 30

On a love­ly June after­noon thir­ty-one years ago, the brief leg­end of McCutcheon came to an end. A robust boy-child was born to young par­ents in a small town hos­pi­tal, and as the cou­ple held their eldest off­spring they did not, as they had led many to believe, name him after erst­while Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta bas­ket­ball star Rick McCutcheon. Instead they named him, in the face of expect­ed fam­i­ly objec­tions, Aldean, in hon­or of the pater­nal grand­fa­ther he would nev­er meet whose sud­den death more than two years ear­li­er still hung over the clan like a dark cloud of sor­row. At no point had they seri­ous­ly intend­ed to name the child McCutcheon, but had spread the idea around to keep their true inten­tions pri­vate until the appro­pri­ate time.

I often won­dered, in my teens, how dif­fer­ent my life might have been as McCutcheon. My par­ents told me they would have called me “Mack” if they had decid­ed to sad­dle me with that moniker. My most press­ing thought in con­tem­plat­ing this the­o­ret­i­cal life was sim­ply: “If my name was McCutcheon, what would I tell peo­ple my name was?” For by my teens I have to believe I would have been eager to give the name the slip one way or anoth­er. But who knows: maybe I would have been fine with it. Aldean cer­tain­ly took some get­ting used to, but I can­not imag­ine being named any­thing else. One of the first deci­sions I made upon reach­ing col­lege was to sup­press the pedes­tri­an “Al” by which I had always been called in favor of my full giv­en name in all its puz­zling uniqueness.

So what sort of per­son would I be, had I grown up as Mack, or even as Ben? (Unsure how my father’s fam­i­ly would receive the nam­ing, my par­ents care­ful­ly chose a mid­dle name — Ben­jamin — they would be hap­py to use should the fam­i­ly’s objec­tions be vocif­er­ous or sus­tained.) It is impos­si­ble to answer. Like­ly I would be very much as I am now; it seems a bit of a reach to sug­gest that a dif­fer­ent nam­ing choice would have caused a domi­no effect of exis­ten­tial ram­i­fi­ca­tions all down through the three decades of my life thus far. But it could have affect­ed my atti­tude, or my out­look, I sup­pose. Inter­est­ing to spec­u­late upon, but not ulti­mate­ly a use­ful exercise.

And so the name float­ed along in the back­ground of my mind, an amus­ing tid­bit from the ear­li­est days of my life-sto­ry, the ques­tion that would always be unan­swered and large­ly unasked. Until one day, the shine hav­ing worn off the Bean­er per­sona I had long flour­ished under, the ker­nel of an idea began to form. The result, two years lat­er, is a new approach to a com­fort­able con­cept: easy, famil­iar per­son­al writ­ing, a writer bar­ing him­self to his (imag­ined) read­ers with as much arti­fice and obfus­ca­tion as seems decent. But now we are shav­ing off the hyper­bole and the pom­pos­i­ty, try­ing to lim­it the adjec­tives to ones that actu­al­ly add mean­ing, not just glit­ter, and giv­ing pref­er­ence to real feel­ings and doubts over con­trived self-aggran­dize­ment. And we are doing so under a name long car­ried, but only now made use of.

So hap­py birth­day McCutcheon! Hap­py birth­day to me, the me that nev­er was, that me that might have been, the me that might yet be. Hap­py birth­day to the best me that I can pos­si­bly be, hon­est­ly putting forth earnest words of my own into the world, for an end unfore­seen. Hap­py birth­day, me, and enjoy this excit­ing, ter­ri­fy­ing, breath-tak­ing, hope-filled year of changes, tran­si­tion, and new adventures.

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