Oscars I have known
In the wee hours, long before dawn of my father’s birthday, the day before Valentine’s Day, it seemed as if I should put pen to paper — pencil, actually, with a freshly sharpened point.
He was surely God’s gift to his parents, as the firstborn, but why did they name him Oscar? Perhaps it was the name of a friend of the family — not a relative — and it was a long time before Oscar the Grouch livened up “Sesame Street.”
He was known as Oscar in Fort Fairfield, but lost it at some point in Houlton, probably thanks to fellow members of the Elks Club, who used his initials, O.B. The nickname stuck, not only on him, but then on his namesake, my brother, whom Ina planned to have called Byron, his middle name, when he entered school. However, she never had a chance, as people had already long since been saying “Little O.B.”
Porter’s mother could have read the name in a book she was reading or have known of Oscar Wilde, who lived from 1854 to 1900. Porter was born in 1885. Oscar Wilde, Irish poet and playwright, became well known in London, with his “Dorian Gray” and “The Importance of Being Earnest” two favorites.
Other Oscars were King Oscar of Sweden; jazz pianist Oscar Peterson; sausage and bologna maker Oscar Mayer; first career basketball player Oscar Robertson; “Golden Boy” of boxing Oscar de la Hoja; designer of elegant gowns, Oscar de la Renta; Blade Runner, double leg amputee, Olympic sprinter with bionic legs, Oscar Pintorius; and, last but not least, possibly the best known, at least by kids and parents, Oscar the Grouch of Sesame Street fame. One could conclude from all these other Oscars that Porter’s name placed him in good company.
In Houlton there were two other Oscars, Oscar Benn, more or less in Porter’s age range, and Oscar French, much younger, whose parents owned French’s Drug Store on the corner of Main and Court Streets. Their cottage at Nickerson Lake was quite a few up toward the Country Club from ours, and many years later would be where Edward Hall, one of the twins who chummed with Leonard, drowned. The water was said to be deep even close to shore. Albert was the other fraternal twin; Leonard was taken at times to be a triplet of the two.
They all called the twins’ aunt, Tessa Gibson, “Aunt T.” She attended the Unitarian Church and her diamonds flashed beneath the lights shining down from the aisle. One Halloween, the three boys knocked on her door with “Trick or Treat” and were invited inside to eat lobster rolls.
I may not have been green with envy, but I did think that treat, which I so loved, was wasted on them.
Byrna Porter Weir was born and grew up in Houlton, where her parents, Ina and Porter, were portrait photographers. She now lives in Rochester, N.Y.