Before moving to our larger home when I was a young adult, our home, we grew up in as a child was very small for a family of seventeen children. We shared bedrooms with our sisters who were around the same ages, and the boys shared bedrooms with their brothers, who were in the same range of ages, too. We had two double beds and sometimes a baby crib or two in one room. The rooms were much larger than the average size bedrooms today. We had one bathroom in our house, which we all shared. I remembered waiting outside the door many a time when nature was calling. It was natural for us to be patient; no matter how bad you had to go. We thought it was normal waiting to use the bathroom for whatever business we had in there. As we learned early on to set up a time when occupying it for longer stays in grooming, as a luxury. We were bathed in the tub a couple of times a week when we were younger children – sometimes two at a time – and cat-washed in between. I don’t remember us having a shower in our bathroom, at that time. In those days, bathing and hair washing wasn’t done as frequently as we do today. Shampooing your hair one or maybe two times a week was what everyone else did, too. And that could be done easily in the kitchen sink, without tying up the bathroom. I remember my mother taking the time of cleaning the kitchen after one of us washed our hair in it, along with her telling us not to put any food anywhere around the sink, until she thoroughly cleaned every hair that may have got caught in the drain. She moved from one task to another quietly and graciously.
Our kitchen was huge, and the table was extra long with more than enough chairs for all of us, and a couple of high chairs for the toddlers. And always prepared with the meal for the hour, as sometimes we ate in shifts due to the many schedules, we had from such a vast age difference. Everything my mother prepared for us was homemade and healthy, and plentiful to feed all of us. I recalled staying overnight at a friend’s house, and I thought she was rich because they were having TV dinners. I thought only the wealthy could afford frozen food! Our freezer had ice cream and ice cubes. I don’t recall any frozen food at all while I was a child.
We had a very large backyard and there were always some of the younger children playing outside whenever weather permitted – this was another command from mom. Every time, the weather was nice, she told us to “go outside and play, the sun and the fresh air are healthy and the natural gifts from God!” As, a day never went by when she didn’t mention God’s name, and the goodness that he brought us.
My mother never wore makeup, and she had a beautiful complexion and shiny black hair. She was truly a natural beauty. I sometimes wonder if her beauty came through bearing so many children. And when she was complimented, she gave gratitude to the natural elements that were from being outside in the fresh air hanging clothes! She wore a crisp clean house dress everyday. I can still smell the fragrance of fresh air on her clothing from drying outside on the clothesline. She truly never needed or owned any other clothing for going out anywhere until she was in her early fifties. Her clothes closet contained a few clean crisp house dresses and one pair of dress shoes. And later in life, when the children were older, a blouse and a pair of slacks were added to her wardrobe, as she’d say she was freer now to venture out of the house, as her children were now grown.
My father’s wardrobe was much the same; a few clean starched collar shirts and a few pairs of trousers in the same closet with my mothers. The girls shared closets and bureaus, as our bedrooms had one very small closet in them. We all got brand new clothes and shoes before every new school year, which would usually have to last until the end of the school year. We also got a new coat every winter, new summer clothes and sneakers for our summer vacation, available through one of my older sisters who worked for a clothing company. Her employee’s discount helped get these things for the younger siblings each turn of the season.
Our summer vacations were always spent at home in our own back yard and in our own neighborhood, while playing jump rope and waiting for the Mister Softie ice cream truck, or the Huckster wagon selling fresh fruit and vegetables that came up the street a few times a week. Our special places we went on vacation were driving along the Delaware River not very far from home, and we watched the boats go by while having an ice cream or a sno-cone. Or we would go to the Wisinnoming Park and have a plentiful barbeque, while running and playing freely in our sun suits, and returning home squirting the hose to cool one another off from the active day we had.
Between my dad’s small pension and the sporadic income from his art work, the expense and the arrangements of simply going away one hundred miles from home to the New Jersey Shore for vacation was out of the question. For one, we all couldn’t fit into the spacious old Packard car we had. So, our parents went out of their way and made our home the best vacation spot every summer! As happily, loving, with everyday blessings, the way I think, our parents wanted these simple things to be remembered, and to know that are always available. And now that I am in my mature years, there isn’t a place that I have vacationed in the world – and I have had the blessings of traveling – which can compare to those wonderful childhood memories that my parents brought to seventeen children at home… of the simple things in life that are free.
Causes Catherine Nagle Supports
Church, Single Parents, Orphans, The Homeless, The emotional and physical health care and rights of children.