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What our large family looked like in 1964, and there was still another one to add. Photo provided by John Houseal


 



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5 of 9

by Phil Houseal
Sept 28, 2016

 

I am five of nine.

I grew up the fifth of nine children.

Hadn’t thought much about it until a phrase came to my consciousness the other day.

“Place back,
Chair back,
Everything there back.”

Has any other family used that? It was a sing-song mantra we used to yell out that had a specific purpose.

When watching the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday night, all nine of us (11 with the folks) would be draped over every chair, sofa, stack of pillows, and often each other to get a good view of the 13-inch TV set. When the inevitable need arose to use the bathroom, or when one of us was talked into popping corn by an older sibling we happened to like at the time, we would have to leave the room.

This forced a major strategic maneuver. A favorable piece of floor real estate, or, on rare and treasured occasions, a seat on one of the La Z Boy recliners, was not to be surrendered lightly. The unwritten rule was “losers weepers, finders keepers” which applied to pocketknives, coins in couches, and seating arrangements. But we developed a clause that protected our prime position during any run from the room:

“Place back,
Chair back,
Everything there back.”

That shouted announcement was as airtight as any written contract. Upon returning to the scene, we could legally reclaim our seat. Sure, someone else might occupy it while we were gone, but they had better jump when the original claimant showed back up.

Amazingly, this worked. There was rarely a dispute. The only exception came if you stayed away too long. Then a statute of limitations came into effect, so if Andy Griffith was over and Dick Van Dyke had started, you might get an argument that you couldn’t save your seat through two programs.

There were advantages to being raised among nine siblings. We didn’t participate in Little League or soccer league or any league. We had our own league. When the folks would take a well-deserved break on Saturday night and leave us in each other’s care, we would do things like hold our own track meets. I remember competing in the standing long jump off the side of our concrete slab. Or we would develop intricate obstacle courses and time our trips around it.

We had other games that I’m not sure were real or something we made up. “Annie Annie Over” was a game that involved tossing a ball over the garage. You caught it then ran around and tried to tag the people on the other side. I don’t remember the point other than to run and throw things. Maybe that was the point.

Grey Wolf was our name for hide and go seek. But we played at night in a dark yard filled with hazards of low clotheslines, hidden propane tanks, and unchained pets that enhanced the element of danger. It wasn’t a successful evening until something left a mark.

I don’t remember any downside to living in a large family. Meals were sit-down affairs around the table. We all had our turns at washing, rinsing, and drying the dishes. Tardiness was not an issue when you had eight others competing for the best piece of chicken or the largest slice of pie.

Looking back, I now understand the amazement people had when being introduced to a family that size. I can’t imagine any other childhood. My mom, now 90-something, sometimes loses track of the world. But when I asked her the other day how many kids she had, she knew right away the answer was “nine,” even though she doesn’t always recognize us anymore.

But that doesn’t matter. We’ll always have “Everything there back.”