When you hear the name Guy Fawkes, what kind of images spring to mind? Villainous masks and black Capotain hats, sinister stories of 17th century treason on a famous November night? Maybe you think of toffee apples and fireworks and standing around a bonfire - cold and frozen in your bones - to watch the burning effigy of a man made of old clothes and sofa cushions
You probably don’t think of a smiling, happy-go-lucky salesman in sunny Tampa, Florida, with three daughters and just as many dogs, and views of sprawling pastures and a field of cows just outside.
And yet, this is the Guy Fawkes I had the pleasure to meet on a Skype call just this week, after a brief Facebook search brought me to him in my quest for a bonfire night themed interview.
We all know you shouldn’t trust people you meet on the internet, but I’m very happy that Guy ignored all those rules and humoured the unusual request that dropped into his inbox.
I was curious to know if, as an American, he knew the significance of his name. You don’t find many British people named Guy Fawkes for obvious reasons (I know, because I looked), but I wondered if the name held as much significance across the Atlantic. As it happens, Guy was born to a British father and it was his grandmother on his father’s side who really pushed for his name.
“I think my mom may have been against it, but gave in,” he says. “She was 45 when I was born and dad probably knew there would be no more chances to name someone ‘Guy’.”
Guy has seven older siblings (five sisters and two brothers) and being from a Catholic family, they were all given very biblical names. Guy, it seems, was the wildcard.
His family’s heritage is interesting, and his ancestors’ journeys stretch pretty far. His English grandmother emigrated to the US in 1922, via Canada, where Guy’s father was in fact born, before travelling down to the US just weeks after his birth. His mother was Hungarian / Greek and emigrated to the US around this time too.
I ask Guy when he first realised that Guy Fawkes has a notorious reputation here in the UK.
“After watching some documentaries and other movies, I realized he was seen that way,” he says. “But there was no emotion tied to it for me; I have not taken an official side! It’s an interesting story and part of my British heritage. Today, he would be called a terrorist, but back then perhaps a freedom fighter. It all depends on your perspective.”
Amusingly, Guy gets asked roughly once a month about his unusual name, but generally it’s in reference to the movie, ‘V for Vendetta.’
“This is usually the case if they’re under 35, especially Americans who haven’t travelled. They just think it’s about a mask – they don’t realise that there’s actually a real story behind it.”
I think I was an adult when it first occurred to me that 5th November was just another day around the world. I had never considered how very specific this holiday is to our history. But even for Guy, marking 5th November has never really been on his radar. Once, about ten years ago, he and a friend went to a British themed pub on 5th November, but it seemed nobody knew what day it was, or who ‘The’ Guy Fawkes was. “It was all very anticlimactic,” he says.
This is interesting to me because it’s so easy to assume that the world you know is just how the world is. All our customs and our traditions and holidays and special events feel so significant and ingrained in our childhoods and our culture and our memories – it’s important to reflect on how these are not everyone’s shared experiences. To do so reminds us that we’re a small part of something so much bigger.
Over the course of our 45 minute conversation, we talk about a lot of things: US politics (something I can’t claim to know a lot about), Covid and lockdown life, helicopter parenting, healthcare and families.
A typical day for Guy in Tampa involves getting up early – around 5am, before the rest of his family wakes. His day is mostly work – he has his own small company that provides voice over IP and telephone systems for businesses – and his phone is usually ringing by 8am. He and his family are involved in the church, and his house is always hectic and full of noise and life with three daughters and three dogs and a few cows in the field outside his house.
Guy has grand plans to live to a hundred, something he’s been telling himself for years. He likes to run every Saturday morning with a group of friends, and he strikes me as someone who does not sweat the small things in life.
Guy loves British TV, especially comedy shows like the IT Crowd and Moon Boy, and is a big fan of comedians like Graham Norton and Russel Brand. We discover we have a mutual fascination with bleak UK crime dramas – you know the ones – someone’s been bludgeoned to death and a police officer with a troubled past is tasked with finding the killer. There’s definitely a British streak in Guy if he’s into this kind of doom and gloom.
To finish, I ask Guy what he would most like to be remembered for in the future – assuming he isn’t going to be remembered for anything like his namesake of 1606.
“Well, I hope not!” he says. “I have some strong opinions, but don’t see myself taking it quite as far as he did. As a Christian, I would rather my legacy be tied to that - being remembered as a good dad and husband would be valuable to me more than much else. I’ve got three daughters and have been married for 25 years this November 23rd. So that’s good legacy so far!”
Guy hasn’t travelled to the UK himself yet, but would like to come one day to explore his British heritage. I agree that this would be an amazing experience for him - providing he can get through passport control without too many raised eyebrows.