My full name is Clarence Michael Whitehead. I’m named after my grandfather, Clarence McClellan Cash. I adored my grandfather, but I was never enamored with the name Clarence. I’ve always gone by Mike.
Every now and again, I am called Clarence. Most of the time, it’s generic mail that comes to my house, or computer generated announcements. Any time I see Clarence Whitehead on an envelope, I know it’s from a person that doesn’t know me.
Now, I’ve come to embrace my first name more. I now understand that names are a big deal, and I’m glad I have that link to a family name. You see that more and more these days –– especially moms using their maiden name as their child’s first name.
I have a friend named John John. Actually, his name is John Nami John IV. That tells us several things. First, it tells us there is a John John, then a John John, Jr., then a John John III, and finally, my friend, John John IV.
It also tells us something else. John’s story is the story of so many American families.
When my friend’s great, great grandfather came to America, he adopted a new last name –– John. His name was Nami John. His son was John Nami John. And, from there, you can see the progression to my friend, John John IV.
I asked my friend if and when he has a son, would there be a John John V? Without hesitating, he said, “of course.” My friend is a pretty down-to-earth king of a guy, so this isn’t about ego. It’s about continuing a family legacy. It’s about honoring the generations that made my friend’s life possible.
So, I started to rethink my first name and how I might embrace it more. I have lived in Louisiana for many, many years, but I have never visited Clarence, La. I have no excuses. It’s totally my fault. Since Clarence obviously is named after me, it would only be polite to visit. So, I did.
As we say in the South, Clarence is down the road a piece. It takes about 90 minutes to get there. I decided to try something different –– I drove the speed limit the entire way. You just scoot down Highway 1, then take a left at Highway 84.
Clarence is a village, not a city, or town. That’s what I like most about Clarence –– it’s a village. City sounds so urban and sprawling and gritty. Town is sort of like being the middle child. Pretty much lost in the shuffle. A town isn’t big enough to be a city, and not small enough to be a village. When I picture a village, I envision an exotic locale, more European than American.
I’m not sure if the residents of Clarence would agree with me, but the sign leading into Clarence does confirm that it is a village. Maybe the only thing better would be if Clarence were a hamlet.
As you might expect, it didn’t take me long to see the sights. There is a stop light in Clarence. It’s at the intersection of Highway 84 and Highway 6. That made it kind of official in my mind. I did see the Clarence Baptist Church and the municipal building where the mayor and police department hang out.
But the real treasure in Clarence is Grayson’s Barbecue. It’s been there for more than 50 years, and owned by several generations of the Grayson family. Because it was my first time, I tried a little of everything –– ham, beef and pork. Of course, I had to have the potato salad and beans. (If you have barbecue, you have to have the potato salad and beans.) And I just couldn’t leave without trying the pecan pie.
This was my first trip to Clarence, but I’m sure I’ll go back one day soon. Maybe someday they will have a “Clarence in Clarence Day” and invite everyone named Clarence to visit. Maybe I’ll get to be the grand marshal for their “Clarence in Clarence Day” parade and even get a key to the village. That would make Clarence Michael Whitehead very proud.