That Family

There are seven of us, only one of which is female and that would be Mom.

“I only wanted boys,” Mom has said on many occasions. Having some girls myself I can appreciate her wisdom but I wonder if it isn’t more of a rationalization. After all, soon after I hear her “only boys” mantra I’m often reminded that there was a girl’s name right at hand had I been a girl.

It would have been a “K” name had I been a girl, a name that since my God Daughter has claimed. The other trick to our family has to do with the letters. We are all K’s or N’s. Mom is Nancy and Dad is Kenneth. Dad cheated a little bit, he actually has the same name as my grandfather William Kenneth Jr. but he always went by W. Kenneth and everyone calls him Ken except for Mom. Mom calls him “Will”. There is some other cheating that happened with the names.

My oldest brother is Nathan Francis. Francis was the name of my maternal grandfather. Nate was born in 1959 and gone before I got a chance to know him. Twelve years older than me, before I knew what was what in the world Nate was gone, first to college and then off to the Army. I am just about as close in age to him as I am to his oldest daughter (another “K” Katherine). And yet, I find that Nate and I have much in common, from what we read to what music we listen to. Nate was an adult before I was a person and gone before I got to know him. Nate was the only one of that I ever really saw who would stand up to Keith. I witnessed herculean wrestling matches in the tiny hallways of that house between Nate and Keith. I’m not sure if they ever really liked each other growing up but I missed all of that dynamic, coming along too late. The first movie Nate ever took me to see was Star Trek the Motion Picture.

Keith Andrew came next. I have some of my worst and best memories about Keith. He was always in trouble, the rebel; he was around enough that I got his good cop, bad cop personality growing up. He was terrifying and at the same the most loving of all my brothers. Keith is emotional like Dad and none of the rest of us is. Keith was recording an album onto a tape and had walked away while the recording took place. While his lair was empty I would always try to get a look behind the castle walls. On this particular occasion I managed to bump the record player and thereby ruin his tape. I was sure he would kill me and ducked out to the best and nearest hiding place I could find, the storage areas in the hallway outside of his room. I’m not sure how long I hid there, I’m not sure if he figured out I ruined his tape or just heard me sobbing curled up under the eaves of that house but Keith found me. He grabbed me and curled me into his lap and I told him what I had done after I stopped crying. He brushed it off and stood me up and told me it was no big deal. Keith would be my defender. The first movie Keith ever took me to see was Raiders of the Lost Ark.

If Keith was my defender Kevin Patrick was my nemesis.  The middle child, Kevin is the facilitator of all communication throughout the family. I was not close to Kevin growing up; we had enough distance in age that we were pretty much constant adversaries or more likely just non-combatants. We had nothing in common it seemed other than that fact that of all of us Kevin and I looked the most alike. This was convenient to me later when I needed an ID to purchase items which were unavailable to me as a youngster. As we both grew up and moved into and out of that house we would come to terms with each other, and it was Kevin that taught me to enjoy college, always telling me that those four years are a special time, a time in your life that you can never, ever, ever get back again. I wish that I had listened to his sage advice more because it is a truism that I think all eighteen year olds need to be aware of. As adults we discovered that we turned out to have more in common than most of the other brothers. Kevin would take me to see lots of movies, and teach me a lot about movies.

Neil Christopher was my antithesis. He is smart. He does not get into trouble. Neil is the baby of the family. He heavily influenced my life. My older brothers were scary or gone or unapproachable but Neil would always deal with me. Most often he would not like dealing with me but he had the presence of mind to do it. When Nate went to college Neil moved into his room, leaving me with a vast, but lonely lair all to myself. The attic wasn’t as much of a castle once the two oldest boys had moved away and I would frequently find myself up there, much to Neil’s annoyance. In one particular case, I can’t recall what exactly brought me to his room, but it never took too much incentive. Whatever it was it infuriated him to such a level that he was forced to throw a very sharp number 2 lead pencil at me as I ran from his room. I suspect I was interrupting his homework. As I turned to flee out of the sliding door which marked the entrance to his domain, the pencil flew, end over and in lodged in my calf. I stopped in the hallway, next to the shelf that held the encyclopedias from the sixties to stare down at the yellow rod protruding from my right calf. It didn’t hurt at all, and, in fact, looked pretty cool so I walked back into Neil’s room to show him. He was perplexed enough to refrain from raining blows down on me and quickly retrieved his pencil. I have many scars on the surface of my body, but this was the first and is still there today. My first tattoo was courtesy of my brother. Neil would take me to see all the Star Wars Movies, many, many times.

All of my older brothers were close enough in age to go to school together. I’m not convinced that I was a “mistake”, but Mom and Dad waited an inordinate amount of time between producing me and Neil. When I was a freshman in high school, Neil was a freshman in College. This gap was unprecedented in our family. The last time I shared a school with any of my siblings was when I was in fifth grade and Neil was in Eighth grade at Christ the King. They all went off to the same college eventually and I think the fact that I didn’t share schooling, although I shared the same schools, led me away from following their path in college.

I am the last of the children. I’m pretty sure it was a last step effort to inject a female into the family, but alas, I arrived with penis intact and instead of being named Kristen caught a pretty good name instead. Dad is William Kenneth Jr. I’m pretty sure Mom and Dad were walking into Huron Road Hospital with one female name on their mind and when I popped out sporting an outward facing appendage they had to quickly regroup and figure out yet another male name that followed the “K” and “N” rules. So instead of William Kenneth III they went with Kenneth William which I think would lead to more confusion than if I had been an III. Now I am so thankful to have Dad’s name, even if it is flipped around. Had they made me an III I have little doubt that I would have insisted that Gabriel Christian be named William Kenneth IV. Maybe not, but I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision.

Mom and Dad grew up in and outside of Clearfield, Pennsylvania. They met in High School and Mom, upon seeing Dad walking across the bridge to school told her girlfriend “I’m going to marry him.” Dad was quite a catch in his day; tall and lean, handsome even if he didn’t know it himself.  Dad worked growing up. Not like I work or any of my brothers work, Dad worked the rocky fields of Pennsylvania. Dad worked a non-working family. Where I am surrounded by alpha males, Dad was the only male that was left when his parents split up. Dad will tell me unpleasant tales about the lack of money and food that he and his mother and sisters had to endure, tales I can’t imagine in these days. Somehow, Dad worked through it.

They got married when they were twenty years old, in 1955. They had Nate four years later, after Dad had finished his stint in the Army and was in college at Penn State. They moved around from PA to Virginia to the west side of Cleveland to, eventually, that house on the east side when Dad settled into his career and we settled into growing up.

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