It’s my birthday. I’m at a gas pump at a Walmart. It’s a fancy pump, with a digital television screen mounted in it. Please Lord, bring back the days before gas pumps had flatscreen TV’s.
There is a brief commercial on the screen, then a news advertisement. Then, an ad for birth control. Birth control. On a gas pump.
Then: the Word of the Day. Elevator music plays. A word appears on the screen.
The word is: “loquacious.”
As I live and breathe. You might not know this, but that is my word. A long time ago, my father gave it to me. I’m not sure if Webster’s Dictionary has been made aware of this yet. But they’re working on it.
I remember the night I was given that word.
A man got home from work late. He called his nine-year-old into the garage. The man laid beneath a Ford, changing engine oil. His denim shirt hung on a workbench.
“Go reach into my shirt pocket,” the man called from beneath the car.
In the denim pocket was a piece of paper with several words in sloppy handwriting.
“Read’em,” said the work-a-holic.
“What’re these big words?” the boy asked.
The boy crawled beneath the vehicle with his father to read them. The boy could see the man’s face in the glow of his hanging shop light. The man’s cheeks were covered in oil smudges. His auburn hair was a mess.
The kid rubbed motor oil on his own cheeks and messed up his own red hair because he wanted to look like the man.
“A fella NEEDS a big vocabulary if he’s gon’ do something with his life.”
Said the man who once wanted to go to college but took up steelwork instead. The man who didn’t WANT to climb on skyscrapers, but did it anyway.
“Go on, now,” he said. “Read me them words.”
The first word was “loquacious.”
“I know, it’s a hard one,” said the man. “Never heard it before myself. It means: to go around talking your head off.”
The boy read the other words. They were hundred-letter words which sounded foreign and strange. Big words. Long, fancy words.
Words like: munificent, prosaic, and ostentatious.
The man told the boy that he’d spent his entire lunch break making that list—complete with definitions.
The boy asked why he’d done such a thing.
And while a stream of black oil drained from the Ford belly-pan, the man said:
“It’s your birthday. And I want you to do something SMART with your life. Because I never did.”
Smarts. The man could disassemble ‘79 Fords and put them back together with nothing more than a ratchet set and a ham sandwich.
“I want you to make something of yourself.”
He crawled from beneath the car. His face was young, lean. I worry I’ll forget that face sometimes.
He said, “I want you to learn’em words. One day, maybe you’ll use’em, maybe even be a writer or something.”
Or maybe one day, the kid will be at a gas pump in Montgomery. Maybe it’s his birthday. Maybe, only a few hours earlier, while driving, he got to thinking to himself: wouldn’t it be nice to know a few things.
To know that those who died too young, are still watching us on our birthday. Wouldn’t it be nice.
First time I’ve ever used that word.