WordBowl Word-of-the-Day from media entreprenuer/Yankee fan/data analysis champion, the insatiably curious K. Nanus
In a town populated by blonde Baptists, our family — a dark-haired Catholic multitude — attracted attention, five kids in a land of two (parents)-by-two (progeny), five kids raised yes-ma’am, yes-sir, five kids who dared not contradict our elders, a plethora of politeness.
We were recognizable, interchangeable, a lump sum. Even our camera-exhausted parents passed off photographs of me — as the eldest, my young life was well-documented — as those of my sister, and it was years before Babiest Brother realized what he thought of as his baby photos were mostly his oldest brother’s. We have no Polaroids or Sears Portraits chronicling our collective childhood.
There were occasional advantages to the gaggle of us: Blackberry picking in the still-wild adjacent woods, we gathered enough berries for a pie with some left over to top our Cheerios. Christmas mornings — even in the financially hazardous years —we gasped at first glimpse of our den, piled with presents. Later, wading through discarded wrapping paper, we acknowledged our individual hauls as perhaps a bit sparse, but the aggregate was staggering.
Summers — before my bothers reached the collective ages for baseball to dominate the season — we ruled the pool at The Racquet Club, organized raucous games of Marco Polo, Touch-the-Drain, aquatic Red Rover.The only way for someone else to win was to get us fighting amongst ourselves, not too difficult a task given the constant jockeying and scrambling for personal attention within our family itself.
Individual flattery worked, too.
During the inevitable summer storms we would mad-dash to the ramshackle clubhouse, forage for loose change between vinyl seat cushions to feed the vending machines for icy cans of Barq’s Famous Olde Tyme Root Beer and Orange Fanta. We commandeered packs of playing cards from the lifeguards, surly at the interruption of their tanning schedule and, stripped of their high perch and reflective shades, reduced to mere mortal babysitters. We played War and Pounce and our own made-up game we called “poker” to justify penny gambling. We waited out the rain, until our pruned fingers softened to normal, our saggy suites dried in stiff creases.
When the skies cleared, we went right back at it, slip-sliding off the diving board, shouting and squabbling, ganging up on those who opposed us. Courteous with the parents strolling by, racquets swinging, their tennis whites glowing against deep tans, calling out for us to mow their lawns, babysit, tutor, ask our father — the retired major leaguer — to consider private coaching for their baseball-besotted sons. We were responsible in ways smaller-familied children were not. We assumed nothing our due, we were grateful for small kindnesses, we were too young to chafe at largesse. We were humble before adults, our Church, our teachers.
To outsiders there was something special, extraordinary even, about so many children so alike and well-mannered and industrious. Our last name morphed into a modifier, an emphasis. The very repetitiveness of us made us exemplary.
Our collective name defined us even as we grew, and separated ourselves from the herd.
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