Ann Hauprich - Author
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HAPPIER BY THE DOZEN

Big families like the one immortalized in "Cheaper By The Dozen" are going the way of the dinosaur. One has to search long and hard these days to find a young family with more than four children. Those with five or six offspring are looked upon with awe while those with over seven probably qualify for some sort of endangered species list! What, if anything, are today's smaller families missing out on? Here's what Ann Hauprich and brother Francis came up with when they sat down to reminisce about their early years as fourth and fifth, respectively, in a line of 10 siblings. (NOTE: This essay was originally published in Catholic Digest magazine in February 1989.)

Growing up in a household with 10 children meant never having to sit on a cold toilet seat.

It meant expecting to get a busy signal whenever you phoned home and not really minding being sent to your room since someone else was probably already there.

It meant learning at an early age how to divide a gallon of ice cream into 12 even portions and multiplying recipes by at least three or four.

It meant submitting to roll calls inside the cramped station wagon to make sure no one was inadvertently left behind, and the thrill of watching your father make a frantic U-turn upon the discovery that some slowpoke (or attention-seeker) was, indeed, missing in action.

Then there was the excitement of being part of the family's entourage of overflowing shopping carts at the grocery store, zigzagging up and down aisles in hot pursuit of bargain brands and two for one specials! Those who remained at home were expected to form a line of bag hustlers to quickly transport perishables from the car to the fridge and freezer.

These, at least, are some of our more vivid memories of being part of a Baby Boom household back in the1960s.

Like so many other Roman Catholics of that era, our parents were firm believers in child control as opposed to birth control. Or, some might argue, they were advocates of Planned Parenthood of another sort: they planned to have lots of children and they got them!

In those days, no one blinked an eye as we paraded down the aisle of St. Ambrose Church in Latham, New York in our best Sunday hand-me-downs. Occasionally, we were reduced to the size of a little league baseball team when our eldest brother, Tim, donned cassock and surplice to serve on the altar.

Of course, we weren't the only family to occupy an entire pew. The Kopachs, for instance, outnumbered us by one or two (we kids used to "keep score" -- as though there was a contest over who would wind up with the most sisters and brothers.) Let's just say the neighborhood was literally crawling with examples of the Cheaper By The Dozen phenomenon.

Unfortunately, we lost count of which family was "winning" the biggest family competition after our "Gang of 12" moved to more spacious Upstate quarters in the late1960s. But we never forgot St. Ambrose -- and it's quite possible the nuns threw a party celebrating the extra filing cabinet space when our records were transferred north to Ballston Spa!

As students in a Catholic elementary school, it was frequently the case that a teacher with several years at the same grade level would have one family member after the next -- and would invariably call on us using another sibling's name.

Occasionally, one got the distinct impression that "Big Sister" was watching as the nuns called an older sibling on the carpet for the transgressions of a younger one.

A case in point was when firstborn Charlene was summoned to the principal's office to sew a severed seat in the uniform slacks of accident prone brother, Tim. With oversized needle and thick, dark thread in hand, Charlene sat in the girl's lavatory stitching Tim's britches while he sulked in humiliation in the nearby boys' washroom.

The used book policy meant you had a whole summer to get sick of looking at next year's educational texts and provided ample time to creatively camouflage the previous years of sibling abuse. Even school lunches defied the norm! At one point, our "Betty Crocker-ish" mother (who later traded in her apron for a teacher's garb) grew impatient with our expressed open individuality regarding lunch menu and went on strike.

The problem was rooted in personal preferences not just for grape or strawberry jam vs. jelly -- but for the thickness and texture of said contents. Then there was the smooth vs. crunchy peanut butter conflict, those who wanted bologna with mustard vs. those who preferred it with mayonnaise, and so on.

Once 20 small hands began making their own school lunches, the system fell apart completely! Names were omitted from brown bags and siblings were frequently shocked by the sight and odor of a Dill pickle and mayo in place of their coveted Fluffernutter.

But only in our dreams would we unwrap thickly layered roast beef with lettuce and tomato on a sesame seed hardroll and a RingDing Junior. (Those delicacies, it seemed, were NEVER on special at the grocery store!)

At the end of the school day uniforms went flying in all directions and it was time to argue over whose turn it was to peel and mash the 24 potatoes -- or worse -- whose dish night it was! Amazing deals were negotiated around switching KP duties.

You'd pray hotdogs were on the menu if it was your dish night. If only the priest realized who was in the confessional with him, he would surely have added "cheerfully scrubbing burned casserole pans" to his roster of penance possibilities.

Of course, the guest leaf always remained intact in the dining room table -- and a card table had to be set up in another room if a school chum accepted an invitation to dine with our family.

Meanwhile, Charles Atlas muscles were developed opening industrial-sized cans of Grandma Brown's baked beans and Army-surplus jars of fruit cocktail. You never left food on your plate for fear the remains would appear before you disguised as soup or goulash at the next meal. (Our parents vehemently deny this was the case, however, they're outnumbered by 10 heirs who insist "meatloaf" once consisted of one-third ground beef and two-thirds leftovers.) Our parents invented Hamburger Helper years before it was commercially marketed!

Visitors to the hectic Hauprich household on a Saturday evening might well have thought they'd taken a wrong turn and ended up at a sheep shearing demonstration. Only instead of clipping wool from the bodies of fuzzy livestock, our Dad was zealously wielding his newly purchased electric clippers up, down and all around the heads of his six sons: Tim, Frank, Bill, Steve, Chris and Andy.

While this was a considerable improvement over the technique involving a cereal bowl on the head, the resulting "Punker" styles were not yet in vogue. Suffice to say, the boys frequently refused to leave the house without caps on their heads following visits to "Don's Scalping Salon."

Now for some families, 12 members would have been enough. But ours mushroomed to include an assortment of pets almost broad enough to rival those at the local game farm.

Included over the years were wild turtles, snakes, hamsters, gerbils, birds, fish, cats, dogs and a multitude of frogs -- which at one time numbered around 40 in an old laundry tub. The frog infestation was much akin to a Biblical plague. Fortunately for our much beleaguered parents, `Smokey', one of our felines -- a "mouser" at heart -- also had a taste for frogs' legs. This cat was also a suspect in the mysterious disappearance of "Myrtle The Turtle."

Some of the pets were buried at sea (a quick flush took care of their remains) while others were ceremoniously laid to rest in a backyard plot. We had shoeboxes of every size to accommodate those dearly departed to the great animal kingdom beyond -- and we prayed that our favorite pets might someday be allowed to join us in Heaven - - despite their lack of an immortal soul!

A milestone of big family life was reached when you no longer had to rely on an older sibling for your wardrobe. In order to finance those "non-hand-me-down" clothes, however, it was necessary to take a job -- often a "hand-me-down" job that had previously belonged to an older sibling!

And what better way to commute to and from that "hand-me-down" job than in a "hand-me-down" car! The sibling transferable jobs ran the gamut from paper routes to babysitting assignments to cleaning to restaurant work.

Owners of a posh Saratoga Springs eating establishment never had to worry about placing a classified ad because a Hauprich had given notice. There was always a younger sibling eagerly waiting in line for the chance to earn some extra money.

In the automotive department, a car owned by third-born, Pam was the first to become a "hand-me-down" followed by a VW "bug" that started out with Tim behind the wheel and then went to Frank before being driven away by an in-law.

Perhaps the most notable of the hand-me-down cars was a `79 VW Rabbit bought new by our parents then traded to Frank and later to Mary Beth, the youngest of the Hauprich children. At the time she assumed ownership of the vehicle, Mary was pregnant with her third baby and so was becoming nauseatingly familiar with the _expression `the rabbit died.' It was a phrase that could NOT be applied to the other Rabbit in her life -- one that was still going strong with over 200,000 miles registered on the odometer!

In today's throw away society, it helps to reflect back upon our "waste not want not" roots. There was no chance of us being spoiled by material possessions.

A new toy came our way once a year -- at Christmas. The rest of the year, we "recycled" one another's play things. Somehow, we didn't feel deprived. For as little as we had, our parents could always show us a child who had less, and we grew up believing it really was "more blessed to give than to receive." Thanks to our many siblings, sharing became second nature, and the luxuries our friends took for granted were genuinely appreciated and treasured in our family circle.

Yes, we had more responsibilities than those in smaller families . . . but we also had more freedoms. We weren't "mothered" to death -- just to life.

We learned to be independent at an early age. Once our chores and homework were done, our time was our own. For some, that meant drama, sports or other extracurricular activities connected with the church or school; for others it meant withdrawing to sketch or create poetry. Still others chose to experiment in the kitchen or test carpentry skills in the basement.

There was no pressure to be anyone or anything but ourselves. None of us felt a need to "prove" our worth. We shared the same roof with 11 other human beings who loved and accepted us -- "warts and all."

Ten Hauprich ChildrenEven so, a sense of humor was critical to one's emotional survival. Laughter was the best medicine then -- as it is now. Only if you didn't come around on your own in those days, there were 100 or more fingers standing by just itching to tickle your funny bone! This same heritage that helped us through our formative years continues to sustain us through the challenges of our adult lives.

Whenever we need a good laugh or a cry, we need only pick up the phone to know there are still 11 "kindred spirits" ready to share our joy or pain.

No matter how many miles may separate us, we feel closely knit. The fabric from which we are made may be on the brink of extinction, but the threads are strong.

We're grateful to our parents for placing such a high price on life that we could count ourselves among the last of a dying breed.

Ann-Hauprich
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