We laughed, we cried. We celebrated. We had fun. We were oh so crowded but somehow managed to grab a little space to call our own. Imagine! Eight children born in a fast thirteen years called this home. A mom,(exhausted) dad, ever -fun-loving) always a mutt dog, usually a stray kitten, sometimes a gerbil and/or rabbit lived and loved in a really small Cape cod style house. It sat at the end of a short dead-end street beyond a circle and just before a running stream.
Strong allegiances were formed during those crowded days. Private space needed to be protected from the ever present threat of the “others.” Mel, Teresa, Susan, Christy and little Martha shared a bedroom on the second floor, Four twin beds and a dresser or two for clothes created a real feeding ground for battling sisters. “…..Don’t touch that; it’s mine; yes it is; no it isn’t; I put it there yesterday; you think everything is yours; you used it yesterday…. MOM, make her give it back! …… and on and on. “ Miraculously, this closeness generated a bond of sisterhood that remains today. It’s a precious and cherished tryst that turned into an all for one and one for all mentality. They remain the best of friends even today.
The boys, Mike and John and Timmy shared an even smaller space on the second floor. Mike and John in bunk beds and Timmy in a crib. And I think perhaps there was a small dresser shared by all three but I can’ t really remember. There was a long closet behind sliding doors separating the two bedrooms and I suspect that was used for everything else … hanging clothes, shoes, toys, and whatever was needed to keep it safe. They were so close in age they could usually wear each others clothes and that caused many battles. None of that “what’s mine is mine” nonsense - first up was best dressed.
Facts are facts facts and time hasn’t changed the reality of those chaotic but very special days. The kitchen was small and the dining area for the 10 of us could only be described as an “eat in kitchen.” But it was so much more than that. We ate 3 meals a day there, We sat on both sides of a a standard picnic table with simple benches on each side. Three sat on one side, four on the other with the littlest one in a high chair pulled up to the corner. Dad and Mom of course had a chair at each end of the table. Pretty damn crowded but one of the few opportunities of the day to laugh and cry together; to correct, scold, pout, and tattle on one another.
House rules were established early and reinforced at every meal. Hands in your lap! No talking with food in your mouth. Chew with your mouth closed. (No one wants to see what you’re eating.) No milk, ketchup, or mustard bottles on the table. (We put them on the floor next to our seats.) Definitely no cereal boxes or jelly jars on the table. Reading the ads caused coma like early morning stupor. And finally, not all chewing a piece of celery at the same time and cracking up at the funny synchronized sound. This was dinner time and not time for silly games.
Thank God starting times at the high, middle and elementary schools varied somewhat so the mad scramble for the one bathroom was less than it might have been. Do you realize no company makes a toothbrush holder with 10 holes for stand up brushes? Ours were in a glass cup or simply lying on the sink top. Don’t even think about colors - it simply was not possible to find 10 different colors so I’m certain even toothbrushes were shared!
The small coat closet by the front door was home to jackets, hats, mittens, sweaters, and boots. (Think 20 plus boots taking up space!) And at times (rainy days) it was a perfect hiding place for hide and seek. All other gear wound up stuffed and shoved into that tiny space and landed on the floor. The scramble to find matching mittens, shoes and socks was an exercise in futility even for those who got there first. “Hurry up guys … you miss the bus and you walk to school … don’t expect a ride from me” was my morning mantra. Somehow, someway you managed to get to school every day - usually on time - sometimes with only one sock (or none) - some times with red ears because you couldn’t find a hat in the stockpile, but always with a hug and kiss and my love. One day, when I was especially frazzled and Mike couldn’t find his hat, I made him wear one of the girl’s big fluffy, furry hats with the tie under the chin. He was mortified and I knew instinctively he abandoned it in the snow as soon as he was out of my sight! (Damn, I liked that hat too - it was one of the better Christmas presents for the girls - big, soft and fluffy - adorable!)
So many memories of these happy, funny times in our little slice of heaven. Intertwined with the chaos, confusion, disorder and jumble there was enough love and devotion to heal the hurt, quiet the noise and calm the confusion.
Our awesome dog, Waffles, was an ever present guardian of the chaos. While she always stayed close to the youngest child, she never lost track of the others. Only when she was standing guard beside a sleeping infant in the canvas carriage on the front lawn did she lose sight of the others. She followed them everywhere and often had to decide which one needed her most. When the kids went their separate ways in this small village the poor dog broke out in hives with worry. I never had to wonder where they might be because, wherever they were, Waffles was with them. Sitting in front of Pop Berger’s in town, at any of the parks or playgrounds in the village, at Scoop and Judy’s or Elliotts Variety and at times right into the classrooms at school. The ever patient and loyal Waffles was a constant guardian. Many were the times I was called to school to pick up the dog. She would wander the halls, checking into classrooms looking for whichever one she was missing. Some teachers (the fun ones) welcomed her. Others, (the dull ones) were not too happy with her entrance into their academic space! And none of us will ever forget loyal and faithful Waffles stubbornly planting herself directly on the hill directly in front of the red wagon that you planned on riding down the hill, through the circle and into the brook. You would take turns getting out of the wagon and pulling, kicking, yanking , screaming for her to get out of the way. She would sit down until you got back in the wagon and then she would move to the front to stop you from going. This went on through many attempts to make her move. But she stood firm. She knew her job and she wasn’t going to let you risk life and limb going down the hill. Such a sweet and loyal dog. We all loved her to death!
And ahh, the kickball games in the street in front of our house. Home plate was a piece of cardboard laid in the middle of the road between Nicol’s house and ours. First base was the corner post of Nicol’s fence, second was the manhole cover by the circle, and third was the big tree at the foot of our front yard There were always four or five little kids fighting for each ball behind the catcher at home plate. A miss by the catcher started a mad scramble for the ball so it wouldn’t roll into the brook at the end of the street. “Batter up” and let the game begin. The lineup always caused an argument. Little kids wanted to “be up” first and the big ones wanted to get their “ups” before the inning was over. Little ones got up to 20+ swings until they finally connected with the ball. Running bases was more fun than hitting the ball! “Big Hitter, Big Hitter” shouted the peanut gallery . The big kid would smack the ball and the little guy on base took off, usually the wrong way. If he was on 3rd, he’d make a beeline back to second; the little kid on first would turn and dart to home. Mass confusion reigned as every one shouted and screamed directions. The game usually ended with scores like 48 - 2 after probably 15 - 20 drawn out innings. But boy did these kids play ball with heart and energy.
Happy memories beget more happy memories and it was tiime for us to move on.