It’s a family affair

Off the Line - Karen Haviland

Like many of those in my generation I was raised in a large family. We had five children in all, and it’s not an understatement to say that we were not the minority.

While I believe that five children were about the standard, there were many families who boasted more than five. And yes, I intentionally used the word boasted because back then a large family was a source of great pride.

In its own subtle way it indicated that the man of the family was successful enough to support such a big crowd, and for a woman, well, I guess it verified that she was fertile and therefore healthy.

In fact, I remember when people would come to visit; dad would call us into the room by name in birth order. Thus, my oldest brother was called first, the second oldest was called second and so on. Then dad, with great pride, would line us up in birth order and usually (except during growth spurts) that meant that the line went from the tallest to the shortest.

With his chest puffed out in bloated pride dad would always make reference to his staircase family. Even back then I would cringe whenever he did that. What can I say? He was a product of his own generation, just like I am a product of mine.

If a family had only one or two children or (horror of horrors) no children at all, they were looked at sideways and most certainly speculated about. In short, there was “something wrong” about those who didn’t go about breeding like rabbits.

Of course, having so many children meant that the father of the family worked long hours struggling to support those ever-hungry mouths and quite frequently, the mother of the family also worked outside the home or sold things such as Tupperware on the side simply to stretch that already frighteningly thin budget.

In the end, that meant (for my family at least) that us children were left alone to our own devices for long stretches of time. As will happen, a certain pecking order formed with the oldest child being the “boss” while those of us who followed took our rightful places in line. Well, some of us anyways. There was always at least one of us who wasn’t content with our place in line and fought mightily to assert ourselves in that mish-mash of sibling order.

This, naturally, meant in-house fighting; lots of it. Well, at least when mom and dad weren’t looking. A well placed punch, a furtive little pinch as we walked by or a tripping foot stuck out in the middle of the floor wasn’t beneath any of us. Our family fought. We were a ball of roiling sibling rivalry. We were loud — extremely loud. You couldn’t miss us. I seem to remember our grandmother packing up her bags after coming to visit and cutting that visit short — way short, saying that she just couldn’t take the “three ring circus” any more. I still laugh at that one because grandma was absolutely correct; our family was a walking, talking, and fighting three ring circus.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t like or love each other. It just meant that in large families one had to be loud and “out there” if one wanted attention. Unfortunately, we all wanted attention and you can only imagine what that meant as we all vied for that precious little bit.

Now, I don’t want you to think that all we ever did was fight. We didn’t. We also had a lot of great times and I have exceedingly fond memories of times spent with my siblings. After all, they were my siblings. Right?

Right! What’s funny is we could fight amongst us; dirty fighting, downright nasty fighting, pinching, scratching, gouging and name calling weren’t beneath us. But what was, and still remains quite interesting is while there was very little beneath us when it came to in-house fighting, we were all ultra-protective should an “outsider” come between us or try to hurt one of us. Anyone who knew my family knew that if you picked a fight with one, you picked a fight with all of us.

There is comfort in that, knowing that there is always someone who will have your back simply because you are family, whether you are right or wrong. To me that is the true definition of family.

 

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