People often say to me: “Wow, you’re one of 8?” Followed by “your Mother’s a Saint!”.
As a child, I knew the former was true, but it took me a handful of years to realize the latter was also true.
Yes, I am one of 8, but, technically speaking, I am the 4th of 8. (very different from #1 of 8)….the oldest lives a privileged life….no hand-me-downs for instance. The middle child lives a life of obscurity; overlooked, talked over.
Our family name is German, but our ancestors are Irish, mostly. Our name is German, but our food was decidedly Irish. Potatoes were what you built the meal around.
At one point our parents had 6 children and the oldest was 5 (with 2 sets of Irish Twins…Rich and Greg, Lia and I). Irish Twins are siblings born within 12 months of each other….(for some reason the Irish have so many children, and are known by everyone to have so many children, someone took it upon themselves to coin a phrase for it all). Greg is the same age as Rich for 15 days every February, and I’m the same age as Lia for 8 days every February/March.
I don’t know about other big families, but ours had a complex web of alliances and rankings….titles.
…it was jousting in the octagon; replete with palace intrigue, coups, attacks, retreats….treaties.
I was in a constant state of discipline…..privileges lost, pending, re-granted, lost again.
Food played a big part in the drama. ….or, let me rephrase that: food is WHERE the drama played out. Wait, let me refine that: the FEEDINGS were where the drama played out.
Our father was 6ft 8, 260 pounds, and a very strict disciplinarian. (putting it mildly)
The goody-two-shoes sisters Lia and Lesley sat nearest Dad at the dinner table….creating what can only be described as a demilitarized zone. The youngest, Rachel, was in her wobbly high-chair, complete with bite marks, fork holes, and graffiti. And then there were the 5 brothers, a safe enough distance from our father’s reach, backs to the doors.
The dinner table was where we would go around the room and tell on each other.
Dad: “Warren, I see your new shirt is ripped, and it’s on backwards, what can you tell me about that?”
Warren, awkward glance towards a glaring Greg: “umm, I fell”
Rich, the oldest, rarely, if ever did anything wrong. We didn’t teach him how to misbehave until he got his driver’s license.
Greg had tenuous alliances; mostly truces and back room deals that went like this: “I’ll give you back your hockey stick if you tell Dad I was fishing with you”.
Me. I tended to keep the peace. The only time I got slapped is when Greg got mad at me for not getting in trouble, or if I happened to be seen at the scene (well, perhaps I stirred the pot a few times, like NOW, for instance).
Warren….well, what can I say? He was the boy Dennis the Menace was modeled after. With a few more black eyes and stitches. Warren has been bitten by 30 animals, including a piranha, snapping turtle, horse, and Canada goose.
And then there’s Nicholas, (Nicky, Nick, Nicko, depending on his age) the youngest of the 5 brothers. Nick rarely did anything wrong, but rarely was not accused of it…..he broke 4 tables and 3 pieces of China before he could even walk.
“Nicky did it” was his nickname.
And when he got older, and he got in trouble? He quickly rolled the turd downhill and yelled at Lesley, who was probably outside picking honeysuckle reading Emily Bronte at the time of the crime.
Rachel was the mascot. We used to push her around the house in a giant casserole dish….she suffered more than one head on collision with door frames and piano legs.
Back to the supper table. Supper was always a starchy event. Macaroni and cream of mushroom soup with hamburger was my favorite meal. That might sound like 3 dishes on one plate; not quite. One pot, one ladle, one plate.
Our mother needed to get food on the table, and there had to be a lot of it….now!
This was the 1970’s….fathers were a pampered class. (and ours was no different….wait, I need to be more specific……my father never changed a single diaper; not ONE, and he loved telling people…….this was back when diapers were heavy cloth, and the toilet was the washing machine…..so, imagine our mother’s plight for a minute, before you judge her for using a 5 gallon pot for supper, and skipping the niceities of an appetizer or a salad. (my 7 siblings just laughed out loud).
There were always 2 or more in diapers, she was frequently pregnant, never any air conditioning, no maid or nanny….and everyone was hungry, 3 times a day. A clean towel was a dry one, grandma darned our socks and one time we found a litter of kittens under 7 loads of laundry.
Yes, our Mom IS a saint. Eight children, 8 college degrees, 32,453 diapers.