First and foremost, I’m a Salvini. Since it sounds so Italian, one would think that is where the pride would come from. With a last name like that that, you would picture a family rich with Italian tradition, that is passionate most about food, soccer, and wine. In actuality, I’m only a fraction Italian (an All-American mutt, at your service), and the pride comes from one man. His name is Ed, his wife calls him Eddie, I call him Grandpa.
Take anyone from his family, and you will always see a little bit of Grandpa Ed in them. Salvini’s are smart, good with our hands and our minds. We have GREAT senses of humor, with a magical combination of wittiness and silliness. We all have big front teeth, but that’s not a bad thing, they’re Salvini Teeth. Most importantly of all, we have this amazing ability to spend years and years thousands of miles apart, but it still feels like home every time we are together. Doesn’t matter how much time has passed, you put a group of Salvini’s in the same room and it’s a party no matter what (ESPECIALLY if Aunt Jenny is there, she’s hilarious).
My bloodline may be rooted in a country shaped like a boot, but my true roots are in the desert of Southern California. My Grandpa Ed and his amazing wife [Grandma] Betty make their home in the hot sands of 29 Palms. What would seem like a miserable place, is made to feel like an oasis the instant you pull in to their driveway, because of the people they are and the love that they give. I have countless memories of visiting that desert, where the two of them would make Mandy and me feel like the only people in the world… because we were Salvini’s. And while I will always be a Salvini first, there is another reason I’m proud of the handle I was given.
When a child is born, they are automatically a part of two families… their mother’s side (for me, it was the McDonald’s) and their father’s side. Anymore, it seems rare that kids get to experience both sides, and if they do they are truly lucky. Not really sure how I got so blessed, but I was born into three families. You see, not only did I get to experience both sides of my blood relatives, I was part of a third family because of another man. His name was Kenny, too.
Kenneth Paul Ryan was my dad’s best friend. They grew up together, worked together, raced motorcycles together, and definitely raised hell together. He was killed in a freak motorcycle accident just months before his wife Jill was to give birth to their first child. My mom was pregnant with me at the time, and it was decided that whoever had the boy, they would take on Kenny’s name. As you would suspect, Jill had a girl, Shannon… and I was given his name, and forever became a part of a third amazing family.
All my life, I have had a complete third set of family members in the Ryan family. Whenever Kenny’s parents, Bill and Arta, came to town it just felt like another set of grandparents were visiting. And I have quite a few uncles in my family, but I am not as close to any of them as I am to one of his older brothers, Jim. He could definitely be compared to that one uncle that just seems to live to get you in to a little bit of trouble, which makes him so much fun. His boys, Zeb and Zach were also those corrupting older brother-types. And though I don’t see Jill or Shannon much, they definitely feel like family as well. We all have this connection, and it is all thanks to Kenny.
I got his name for a reason, because of the man he was, and what he meant to my family. He could have been named Thomas, Frank, or Joe… and it would have become my name as well. Regardless of what it would have been, I would wear it with as much pride as I do this one, because it is not just a name. Because of my name I’m not only part McDonald and part Salvini… I am definitely part Ryan as well.
In retrospect, it probably all boiled down to a popularity contest when we were younger. Other names weren’t cooler because they just sounded different than ours, but more likely because they represented something as well. Maybe Jake was the supreme athlete, or Amber was the pretty girl in class. Maybe you liked a different name more because it belonged to your favorite actor, athlete, or musician. Fortunately for me, my name already had two very special meanings behind it, and I never thought twice about wanting to change it. Kenny Salvini always did me just fine.