flow gently, sweet afton // part 2

So, you now know why I’ve chosen the name “Sangster” as my creative outlet but, another question remains: How did I end up being named “Afton”? 

I was named after my paternal grandfather, Afton Darrell Hefley. I never knew him as he passed away at age 54 in 1977 from liver failure. 

I’ve tried to gather stories from my father, uncles, great-aunt, and grandmother my whole life in some sort of attempt to somehow connect to the man of my namesake. 

Stories about him range from admiration to contempt. Most of them are of admiration. His family loved him dearly and ultimately it was just a very painful loss after a long and tiring battle with alcoholism. 

with my grandmother or as we lovingly call her, “Mimi”

A few Christmases ago, my cousin had found an old tape that was a recording of a family dinner from the early 70’s. My sister and I weren’t even a thought at this point. You can hear my cousin Darren, just a baby at the time, cooing in the background, silverware clinking on the plates, idle conversation with thick Oklahoman accents, my Mimi’s younger voice, and a voice I had never heard before.

It was very low and gravely - he sounded like a weary old soul. He said grace. It sounded so familiar. In fact, it sounded a lot like my father. It was my granddad.

I’ll never forget sitting in my uncle’s home office that Christmas with my parents and sister hearing my granddad’s voice for the first time ever. It was odd and magical. There was a mixture of intrigue and sadness in the room. I kept looking at my mother who was constantly checking my dad’s reactions. Most of us just stared at the floor. It was like my sister and I had found a missing marble. 

with my Uncle Steve on the left and my father on the right

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So, now a new question arises: How did he get the name “Afton”? 

This is the story I’ve been told which originally was told by my great-grandmother Hefley (I did know her for a short while before she passed in 1986) whom everyone has told me used to be a grand story-teller. So, who really knows how much of it is accurate? However, t’s all we have and it’s a pretty cool story.

It’s 1923 somewhere near McAlester, OK. The Great Depression and the biblical Dust Bowl were just around the corner. My great-grandmother Hefley was pregnant with my granddad, the first of 3 children. From what I’ve been told, my great-grandparents lived near the train tracks and would occasionally allow a passer-thru hobo stay on their front porch. Providing food for their own family was hard enough but, they always seemed to manage to scrape something together for their guests. 

One particular vagrant man was staying on their front porch and was reportedly quite the enigmatic man. They would sit on the porch with him for those few evenings, stargazing and talking. He predicted that the child my great-grandmother was carrying was going to be a boy and if he was right, they should name him Afton. 

My great-grandfather’s name was Almer Drane but, went by A.D. They wanted their child to have the same initials so it worked out well. 

Lo and behold, great-grandma Hefley gave birth to a boy in late September and they named him Afton Darrell. 

As my granddad grew older, he decided that Afton was too “girly” of a name and started to officially go by his middle name, Darrell. 

So there you have it. I was named after my paternal grandfather who was essentially named by a vagrant hobo in pre-Depression, pre-Dust Bowl Oklahoma. 

That’s the story and we’re stickin’ to it.