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
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
Even 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
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
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.