It is true that growing up in a big family can be rough. I had 5 brothers and 4 sisters, so there was a lot going on in our household. The boys fought a lot, the sisters liked to watch. There were chores that were also squabbled over, so what would take a mere 30 minutes to finish, was often stretched for more than an hour or even longer. My parents would often be tired and grouchy, which is understandable, but they were never abusive towards us. There was a few times when dad lost it and started spanking a little more than he should have, but mom would always say, “That is enough Bob” and he would stop. They were actually very patient with us and loving most of the time.
There are also lots of fond memories and many of them revolve around our TV set. We had one set in the living room and at night most of us would lie on the floor in front of the screen, eating oranges and spitting the seeds out onto the floor…. hundreds of seeds. There was always a running commentary on whatever was being shown, which often led to fits of laughter. One night we started one of our laughing marathons and dad got a tad annoyed with us and told us to stop, “NOW!” So we became silent and then someone would snicker and we would start all over again. We laughed so long and hard that we could not breathe and our stomachs would hurt, we would eventually stop for a short time and begin again. Usually dad would get caught up in the fun and join us. So TV for the family was not just a way to get absorbed in the show, but a way to actually have fun together.
There were some kids from the neighborhood who loved to come over to our house, hang out and from time to time eat with us and of course watch TV. So they would often join in, or if not, watch dumbfounded at our antics. We talked fast and loud and of course we would have pet phrases that had meaning only to us. On weekends we could watch TV until around 11 p.m., then mom would turn off the TV and everyone would get up to either go home, or for us, to go to bed. When we had oranges, the floor would be covered with seeds, wall to wall, so we would sweep up quickly and call it a night.
Well most nights. One night Robert and I went to our room. I was in the top bunk and he of course on the bottom. We are both avid readers so we would usually spend time reading before sleep. On this night Robert decided to see if he could get me to fly off of my bed. He placed both feet directly under me and shoved as hard as he could. Well I left my bed and landed on the floor. I immediately got up and I went for him. Usually, he being much bigger than me would quickly win any scuffle we had, but this night was not like any other night. So we fought, hitting each other, but not too hard, but we did do a lot of pushing. The first thing that went was our bunk bed; it fell over to the side. Then I shoved Robert into the dresser and the lamp fell off with a bang and along with our shouting and cussing, well everyone was listening, including Dad. He arrived and began pounding on our door demanding what was going on. So Robert and I got very quiet and I moved the dresser out of the way of the door and peeked out. My dad was red as a beet, really mad and wanting ‘bear’ as the saying goes. So I looked up at him innocently and said “why nothing is going on”. To my surprise my dad said OK and simply left. Having a lot of brothers of his own, knew what was going on and just wanted to make sure we were not hurting each other. We never harmed each other when fighting, no matter how intense it got, or if one of us thought the other was hurt, we would stop the hostilities at once.
We fought a lot in my family, but we also laughed and helped each other out when needed. We had chores; a paper route being one of them and that is another story. The Dohle boys were also well known for their ability to babysit. Having so many younger brothers and sisters we knew how to clean diapers in the toilet, which was a plus for mothers and we were good at burping babies, turn them in the crib, etc. We did not get paid much, but it all went to the community pot. Mom would always greet us at the door with her hand out and a smile on her face. I did not mind and neither did Robert, it was after all for the family.
While it is true that in a big family personal attention is not always possible, there was a strong sense of belonging and also that personal efforts for the well being of the clan were not done in vain and were noted and appreciated. I am far from being perfect and I still have problems that I am still working on that comes from being a member of a tribe the size of mine. The good points however far outweigh the negative. If I could go back in time, I doubt I would change much, if anything. Our past forms us but also allows opportunities to work towards healing as well as closure. Still on the way and perhaps I will die before I get all the ducks in a row, but I am not sure that is all that important. Just trying to keep it simple keeps me busy enough.