My grandmother’s older brother passed away last night from Alzheimer’s at 77. I was not close to him, but I am to my grandmother and am thinking about her. Sometimes I just want to put stories in writing so they’re there.

We knew him as “Ollie” but his real name was Loye Wayne. Loye is a family name, sort of. There are all these variations of it in a line of men in my family who are clearly supposed to be named after each other. It’s clear, now, that they were all spelling “Lloyd” different ways.

This whole part of my family was completely illiterate until my grandmother’s generation, and even then, she’s the only one who learned to read and write as a child and she’s not very good at it. So you have my great grandfather, Loyd. Then his son, Loye Wayne/Ollie (which they always pronounced “Lloyd” Wayne unless they were talking fast). Ollie has a son named Loyed (also pronounced “Lloyd”). My father’s middle name is Lloyd, which would make sense since my grandfather who is very smart, married into the family and probably corrected the spelling when my dad was born. And now that is the middle name that belongs to my brothers.

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To me, it’s incredible that you can see the scars of poverty in something like a list of names. I also see the appearance of the “properly” spelled Lloyd in my father’s generation and have to be respectful of how lucky I got that my grandparents were able to create such change in their lives.

My boldest memory of Ollie is him trying to set me up with his grandson at a family event when we were teenagers. To be clear, this would have been my second cousin. My city-slicker mother was NOT impressed.

Ollie had a dramatic life story. He was born in Nashville, AR, to my great grandparents who were sharecroppers. My great grandmother was probably about half American Indian (Quapaw, we think), but she looked very Indian, and their family suffered some degree of racism as a result (for example, the children often could not attend the local schools in many of the places they lived around Arkansas).

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Ollie was kidnapped, so they say, around age 9, and did not return to the family until his mid-teens. I’ve never gotten a clear story on this, but it seems that he was taken by a fellow sharecropper who moved, and forced to do labor until he ran away - which required him to hide food and supplies and figure out how to use a map without any education. Now that I am older, I wonder if someone literally enslaved him, possibly due to his race.

Ollie returned home around age 15.

At age 22, with a wife and four kids to support, Ollie became injured working some farm equipment, and the six of them moved in with my grandparents and their (then) one child, my father, in a two bedroom house in Ft. Worth, TX; my grandfather worked for ranchers and my grandmother was a bank teller (she never graduated high school, but in those days you just had to pass some tests). My grandmother educated Ollie enough get his GED. She says now she thinks he probably had dyslexia. Whenever I get a birthday card or something from her, I wonder if she does too.

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With his GED, Ollie became a TV repair man, worked his way up the ladder and eventually opened his own electronics shop. I’m sure he had his share of drama from then on, but nothing that I know of even comparable to his crazy childhood.

Here’s to you, Uncle Ollie.

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