Sunday, 17 July 2011

Middle Child Syndrome

My mother, Dorothy, used to like to tell everyone that she was "the middle child." Of course she neglected to add that she shared that title with 17 other siblings! My mum was the 10th child in a sib-group of 20. She was born prematurely and weighed only 2 ½ pounds at birth. Her bed was a 4 quart basket and it was feared that she wouldn't survive. But survive she did, not only then, but throughout her life at home.

Older brother, Tommy, and big sister, Flora, would often work hard at trying to rid themselves of their little sister so that they didn't have to have her tag along and include her in their play. Tommy and Flora worked creatively to end Dorothy’s existence - like the time they swung her over the bull pen, and the bull nearly thanked them for an early lunch. Or the time they told her she could steal a drink from the rain barrel by knocking the "bung" just slightly, only to wait until her face was underneath and then one of them opened the bung full stop, nearly drowning her in the process.

Dorothy was 7 when the war broke out. Two years later, she was living in a small village near Edinburgh. There were 10 children at home. The village did an emergency preparedness in the event of a bombing. The soldier handing out gasmasks asked my grandmother, Dora, how many gasmasks she needed and she said “10.” He showed her how to put the mask on the baby on her lap, then went on to help other families. After a short while and once the children were nicely masked, Dora went back and asked the soldier for two more masks. He said, “I gave you 10.” “Yes,” replied Dora, “but my husband and I need one too.” The soldier looked at her in astonishment and said, “Missus, by the time you get all of those masks on all of those wee ones, you won’t have time to be in need of any more!”

Then there was Dorothy’s big brother, Dod, who for his entire life has played the role of everyone's big brother (even if he's younger, or not really your brother). He felt particularly close to his sister and felt a need (in his mind anyway) to protect her. This didn't always translate out that way. Dorothy used to love to tell the story of the night she and Dod had convinced their parents that they should be allowed a night in town. They agreed to a curfew and assured their parents that Dorothy would be safe because Dod would be there to look out for her. Since Dod was a champion boxer, mum and dad couldn't very well argue about his ability to keep her safe. So off to the town they went, Dorothy on her bike and Dod walking alongside. Once they got to town, however, they went their separate ways. So much for Dod's promise of protecting his sister! They agreed to meet to go home together. Dorothy was at the pre-arranged meeting place on time, but no Dod. She waited. Still no Dod, so she headed home. Some time later, Dod arrived where the two had agreed to meet. He knew he was late, and likely in trouble, so he jumped on Dorothy's bike and headed home. Imagine his surprise half an hour later when he saw Dorothy come down the stairs to see who was knocking on the door. It turned out to be the local Bobby looking for the young lad who had made off with his bike!

In his later years, Dorothy’s dad was known for his little book where he kept a record of any monies loaned from and returned to him even monies given to his wife and children - and what the purpose of the loan was (bingo, dances etc.) Dorothy used to love to tell the story of the time she and her friend, Chrissie, were in need of money for a night out on the town during their weekend home from nurses training.

They asked her dad for money and he denied having any. They asked for proof. He reached into his pocket and took his hand out again, showing them that it was empty. Chrissie then asked if they could keep any money they found on him and he reluctantly agreed. She and Dorothy then turned Grandpa upside down and out fell his loot - which they then used for their night out.

Even after she was married, Dorothy continued to live at home. She and my dad took over one of the rooms in the house as theirs. Younger brother Craig used to love to go and visit his favourite sister. Often on a Friday night he would be asked to accompany his mates on a night out on the town. Inevitably, Craig would tell them he couldn’t go with them because he was going to his sisters for the weekend. Then he would gleefully walk in the house, enter the room Dorothy and Tommy had taken over and help himself to a dinner of beans on toast!

For the most part, Dorothy loved being from a large, open family. She always had companionship; someone to laugh with; someone to cry with; someone to share life’s burdens and sorrows. It would have been easy to lose contact since most of her siblings remained overseas, but at her funeral, all of them talked about the loss. Not only had they lost a sister, but each of them had lost their best friend.
Being from a large family had it’s ups and downs and could have rendered any one of the family insane. But it had quite the opposite effect. Every one is unique. My mother’s gift was her loyalty and devotion to her family. Her devotion to her mom and dad, to her siblings, to her husband and to her children. My mother was the middle child. Smack dab in the middle of 21 children.
But rather than getting lost in the crowd, or fading into the woodwork, she shone above the rest in so many ways, particularly in her loyalty, her humour and her compassion. She was indeed the shining jewel in her daddy’s crown.

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