As you may or may not know, I grew up with seven siblings. Seven brothers and sisters that in total, were nine years apart in age! It seemed I had playmates all the time. We lived on a farm and had gobs of activities along with acres of land to play. Did we always get along? I introduce you to my tribe of good chaos!
First of all was my oldest sister (by one year) Bernadette. Being the oldest, she knew EVERYTHING of course. She also was the first to get EVERYTHING! A new doll, a pretty coat, a two-wheel bike, and all the flu, chickenpox, and measles she would bring home from school! She was so pretty with her long, wavy, black hair. Her nickname was Berni.
When we played, she was the mother, doctor, teacher, and any other leader we could pretend. Berni was the director of all games and fun. Always helping Momma with chores in the house, I remember her cooking, baking, sewing, and clipping coupons from the Sunday newspapers. A planner and organizer, we trusted Berni’s word. She seemed more mature than the rest of us and enjoyed her position.
Berni always had a boyfriend and so often in love. In fact, she married her high school sweetheart, Jim. Together, they shared two children and a wonderful, rich marriage. Homemade everything and love earned her the title, Berni Crocker (after the heroine of General Mills).
I was the second oldest in the family. I grew up really skinny, had lots of curly hair and big brown eyes. Even though my full name was Josephine (named after my Daddy), I was called Joey, Josie, or Jo. I remember getting along with all of my siblings, but not always at the same time.
Next in line were twin sisters, Annie and Mary (nine months younger than me). The twins were born two months early and named after Momma’s two sisters, Aunt Ann and Aunt Mary. Because we were so close in age, we were probably the closest with each other. Momma raised us as triplets. We learned to crawl, walk, and talk at the same time. Momma was crazy busy!
Annie was quite funny and I loved keeping secrets and playing with her, however, she could be a little bossy. She had qualities I so admired; she was taller, cuter, and more assertive. Sometimes we double dated. I always thought she knew everything about boys. I wanted to have her courage, sass, and boyfriends.
Daddy nicknamed her “Punna”. We thought maybe it was the Hungarian translation for Anna, but never asked. No questions, Punna she was.
I so remember twin sister Mary as the patient, hard-working sister. I saw her as one of Daddy’s favorites because she was always helping with chores inside and outside the house. I don’t remember Mary as mean, spiteful, or sassy. It was easy for me to get along with her. We used to share a bed and play a lot together. Daddy nicknamed her “Mudda-skush”. Not sure of this term, we agreed it was another Hungarian moniker. Not wanting to mispronounce her pet name, I have memories of calling her “Mud”. No surprises, she graciously accepted.
Without a doubt, “church” was one of our favorite pretends. We recited Latin learned at Mass and used goldfish food as our Communion wafers. When that ran out, Berni and I made hosts from flour, salt and water. Using pillow cases as head coverings, AKA, habits, Annie and Mary were nuns at St. Make Believe. I most remember this when we were supposed to be taking naps in our large upstairs bedroom!
The fifth child in my family was the first boy, Joe. Yes, we both were named after Daddy. We called him Jojo and he was always silly and often in trouble. Surviving in the midst of four older sisters likely contributed to his mischievous being. Always planning and inventing, Jojo had lots of energy and ideas. His carefree spirit and incessant prattling often kept me in his company.
Jojo loved being with Daddy. Together they did small jobs for the neighbors or small businesses in town. Patching roofs, fixing machinery, delivering seed corn, just to name a few. I got along with Jojo because he never seemed to get mad. He was always climbing, exploring, or inventing some contraption with Daddy’s collected junk. I loved his mindless sense of life!
A most vivid memory I have of Jojo was on one of the hottest days in summer. I was helping Momma bake several fresh peach pies in the steamy kitchen. Jojo was outside yelling for Momma to look out the window.
He had climbed the 30+ foot silo and stood on its top. With a foolishly, courageous jump, he made a landing on the roof of the peaked barn! There was an unbelievable gap between these two structures, however, on the peak of the barn roof stood Jojo waving at Momma and me. His champion grin was quickly dashed as Momma screamed, “I don’t know how you got up there, but you better get yourself down without getting killed!”
No harm, no foul. Joe landed safely and another day of his adventures were in the memory books. Today, Joe continues to be inventive and oh so talkative. He is a friend to everyone he meets.
Miss Kathy Sue is number six in my family. Of all my sisters, she is the most compassionate and loving. Just three years younger, I remember her always being in the mix of collecting flowers and leaves in the woods, “fishing” in the county ditch, playing church, and riding bikes up and down the driveway. Daddy used to call her “Kukuts”. It supposedly meant “little worm” in Hungarian.
I don’t know why, but it seemed that Kukuts was the one who got hurt during our many outdoor adventures. She was younger, very small in stature, and so wanted to be included with us older ones. It became obvious that she was the “chosen” one to play along.
I still remember the day we played Doctor. It was summer and we were in an empty corn crib. Whomever the “doctor” was, he/she had “prescribed” a corn kernel as medicine. At the age of two, Kathy had no choice but to be the “sick” patient and was administered the corn, UP HER NOSE! She couldn’t breathe, Momma couldn’t retrieve the swollen kernel, thus, a trip to the hospital!
Little Worm was also the only sibling that ever broke a bone (her arm, falling off a horse), and chipping a front tooth (being shoved into a metal corn wagon). Minus the injuries, I so wanted to have her cuteness and gentle charm. Kukuts was easy to love!
Number seven in our family was my second brother, John. Johnny, as we called him, was a favorite of Momma’s. He had a gentle spirit and the biggest brown eyes! He was five years younger than me and somewhat sickly. I remember very little about Johnny as a small boy. He was a great play pal, and I don’t recall any bickering or bad feelings between us.
I will never forget the day little J. was rushed to the hospital because he had quit breathing. He was about two years old and had been crawling on the floor. Fuel oil that had been leaking from a room heater and Johnny found it. Immediately he turned purplish-blue and was rushed to the hospital. Given last rites, no one believed he would survive.
Johnny bounced back fine. He is by far, the tallest, most able, and kind-hearted brother anyone could want. He is a true giver, committed, and a wonderful husband, father and friend. I live closest to him and spend a good time giggling, reminiscing, and sharing a barley pop or two.
Last, but not least of The Crazy Eight is Baby Theresa. We are eight years apart in age and close siblings today. My memories include that she was the most spoiled. She always had someone feeding or holding her. Baby T. received all the swing, wagon, and yes, piggy-back rides! We’d all take turns dressing her pretty, combing and braiding her hair, and treating her like a princess. We lovingly called her Theressy (with a long “e”).
I recall one unforgettable incident with baby sissy. Momma had scheduled a photo session for her princess. A few of us decided to add the sweet smell of baby oil to her already dark locks. We used so much oil that her cuteness was quickly replaced with the likes of a rain-soaked duckling! Momma did not have the time or patience to get the excess oil from baby T’s hair! Cuteness had gone awry!
I remember little about Theresa growing up as I had various part time jobs as a teenager. When I graduated, she was about ten. Off to college I went as T. played sports in high school and then to work after graduation. She had lots of friends and independence. I know for a fact, she and Johnny were the best of pals and siblings.
Today, Baby Theressy seems to be a go-to for advice and knowledge. She has a strong commitment to her family and work. Always a giver, she is loved by so many.
Lessons Learned All in all, there were more happy, joyful, and playful times in my childhood than not. I rarely recall any long-lasting arguments of significance. It seemed if someone was on the outs with another, there was ALWAYS another sibling that would pity and side with you! Trivial spats and bickerings were reshaped and molded into a huge love connection of respect and companionship. Momma and Daddy kept their brood consistently appreciative of each other and cemented together with Godly faith and goodness. A loud, “YES!”. Yes, I DID get along with my siblings! Love lived!
Thanks for reading and sharing the love!