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Lost in the CrowdMemoir of the First Baby Boomer
By Kathleen Mulhall Haberland
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Kathleen Mulhall Haberland
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy First Crowd
I am carried across the threshold of 210 Summit Street in Mom's embryonic fluid. I leap like John the Baptist in Elizabeth's womb when I get inside the big home. I hear the patter of my siblings' feet. They laugh and cry and argue. There are a lot of people in this new home. I can't wait to be one of them. In spite of a rough gestation period, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombed to dust and all the pine oil and paint fumes emitted from cleaning up the "dirty house on Summit Street", I am anxious to be born. In the fullness of time, Mom packs for the hospital like she is going away for a year. Everything smells of Jean Nate, except her carton of Pall Malls. She tells Trudy Duddy, a friend and neighbor at 203 Summit, that she can't wait for the usual ten days rest after she delivers her baby.
"Getting served three meals a day while I lay in bed is worth it," she says like she won a prize on Queen for a Day.
Mrs. Duddy, a staunch Democrat and my future godmother, doesn't agree.
On Saint Agnes' feast day, January 21st, 1946, I am born. My sister, Dot, wants me named Agnes after her doll baby. Since I am born on the young martyr's feast, Mom feels I should be called Agnes as well. Dad insists on naming me Kathleen. For Mom's entertainment, he sings a few lines from "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen." Guess who won?
The nursery is crowded. I am one baby among many known later as Post-War Baby Boomers. I weigh a whopping six pounds so I get relegated to the edge of the nursery. The nurses complain about all the babies and wonder what Montgomery Hospital expects of them at the low salary they are paid. I find my thumb and suck on it. If I'm going to get ignored, I might as well enjoy the rest.
Chapter TwoThe Crowd at Home
My mother's full name is Dorothy Ann Taglieber Mulhall. She's German, married to "an Arishman." Grownups call her Dot. My older brother and sisters call her "Sarge." She is a petite ball of fire with short, wavy brown hair.
Everything is black and white with Mom. Though Dr. Benjamin Spock's latest best seller on child care is changing the way women think about child rearing, Mom will have none of it. Though I am born into what Walter Winchell calls the Atomic Age, her mothering dates back to the Stone Age. She is usually a quiet woman. She has nothing to say except little quips like "good things come in small packages" or "I'm busier than a one-armed paperhanger with an itch."
Mom eats weird things like cow's brains and oyster stew. According to Daddy, Germans are known for eating creepy stuff. Mrs. Fleming next door makes Mom some colorful junk called chow-chow. You'll never find that on menus. Trust me. Every color crayon I have is represented in the jar of disgusting vegetables swimming around in strange juice.
John Joseph Mulhall, my dad, works at Stroehmann's Bread Company. His friends called him "Jaynor". He drives his truck through rain, snow, sleet and hail to get "upcountry" people their bread. Some of them pay him with pennies, some don't pay at all.
Daddy brags about being Irish.
"They built the railroads and won the West," he says.
He's pretty smart. He is the only man anyone knows who can sing all the words to "Finnegan's Wake," an Irish ditty that has a million verses. Daddy is very patriotic. During World War II, he'd have a few drinks and try to enlist. The recruiter would say, "Go home, Jaynor. You got six kids, for Christ's sake."
Chapter ThreeGrowing Up In A Crowd
Before I have time to be spoiled as the baby of the family, Mom is pregnant again ... this time for my brother, Tommy. He is born in December of 1946, the same year as me. His birth makes us Irish twins.
After a few years, the baby of our clan, Michael, is born. The massive rooms in our home quickly fill up. Now there are nine children and two adults roaming around in the three-story twin's massive rooms, its front and back porches and its long, side yard.
A lot of people know my parents. Most of them know my face, but can't figure out where I fall in line.
"Which one are you?" they ask.
"I am Kathleen, the youngest girl," I reply with face tilted to the sky in pride.
"How many children are there?"
"There are nine."
"Nine! Glory be to God. How does your mother keep all of you straight?"
"It's easy," I say. "We split ourselves into the three older ones, the three middle ones and the three little ones. It is simple for us. There's Patti, Carol, Margie," I say, pausing for clarity. Then Jack, Dot, Mary. Then there's Kathy (that's me), Tommy and Michael."
Chapter FourThe Three Older Ones
Patti, Carol and Margie are the oldest. Patti is like a second mom who babysits for us when Mom and Dad go out, which is almost never. Patti, the oldest and a teenager at St. Patrick's High School, doesn't act like she's the boss. She says we all drive her nuts just like my parents do. She works at Keyser's Luncheonette after school and likes a really big man named Tex. His slicked-back black hair and dark eyes remind me of Sunset Carson, a pretty famous cowboy I saw once in person. Tex is in the Drum and Bugle Corps, whatever that means. They are probably going to get married because they sit next to each other on the couch pretty close.
Carol, who is a blonde thanks to peroxide and ammonia, is a year younger than Patti. She isn't afraid of anybody. If she tied me to a railroad track, I wouldn't cross her. She hangs out at another luncheonette across the street from St. Patrick's called Minnie's. She jitterbugs her head off in front of the jukebox. I sneaked in with my two little brothers one day to ask her for money. She has a soft spot for Tommy, so Michael and I make him ask. Depending on how much he gets from her, we will buy squirrel nut zippers and maybe even two-cent Reese peanut butter cups, even though they are expensive. One thing great about Carol is that she'd never squeal on us little ones like my other sisters do.
Margie talks all the time. She tells stories at the dinner table about high school and funny things that happen between the nuns and her friend, Barbara Pierce. She laughs so hard telling the stories, that she can't finish them. Her big brown eyes light up when she tells about crushes she has on guys. She has it real bad for Jackie Cooper right now. When nobody's looking she sings "My Prayer" by the Platters and pretends she's slow dancing with him. Every other sentence out of her mouth had his name in it.
Carol and Margie fight. Margie is fussy about her things; Carol thinks she's a snob. They argue back and forth. They don't argue with anyone else in the family, just each other. I think teenagers are crazy. For some reason, each of the three older ones chose one of the three little ones to spoil. Patti likes me; Carol likes Tommy; and Margie likes Michael.
I know Patti likes me because she takes me to Philadelphia on the Reading Railroad. Her friends Blinkey, Tinkey and Genevieve giggle the whole way to Market Street. I figure they are talking about boys because they whisper. A few times Patti looks at me as if to say "You didn't hear that, did you?" I get my first taste of growing up and acting like a teenager sitting on train seats that face each other. I sit erect looking out the train's dirty window as it passes towns like Conshohocken and Miquon. When we get to Horn and Hardardt's in Philadelphia, Patti lets me put nickels into a slot so I can get a piece of lemon meringue pie from a small window. The machine is like a robot that eats nickels and then magically puts the pie in the window slot. Did you ever see something like that? The pie isn't as good as my Grandmom Mulhall's, but it's the first one I ever ate from a machine.
Chapter FiveThe Three Middle Ones
The middle kids are Jack, Dot and Mary. They are all a year apart in age. Jack is one boy wedged in between six girls, so he has problems nobody can understand. His friends call him Muddy. They have names like Booper, Reds, Yock and Beak. When his friends see me, they call me Little Muddy. It makes me feel good around the girls in my class.
Jack usually complains about being a boy when it is his turn to do dishes after supper. There are at least eleven plates and glasses, not to mention pots and pans and a million pieces of silverware. He is lucky because he doesn't have to do any ironing. Even though it is his cassock and surplus that we have to wet with starch, roll up and put in the icebox for a while before we iron them. It takes years to do the ironing. Jack likes to run track and isn't around much when the assignments are given out at home. Boys seem to have more important stuff to do in the world. Us girls just clean up and iron.
Jack is Mom's favorite, too, which gets my sisters mad. When I complained my friend, Rosemary, said the first boy in an Irish family is always the prince. Jack's royal standing is sealed when he wins a four foot statue of the Virgin Mary from St. Patrick's. Mom gets my Uncle Jim Foley to make a shelf out of the dining room closet. The Blessed Mother stands over us kids in all her glory. It becomes the backdrop for all of our Easter, Christmas, First Holy Communion and Graduation pictures.
Dot is the sweetest of the nine. She had big brown eyes and always has her hair in rollers. I can forgive her for wanting to call me Agnes because whenever I need some money for candy, I just act sad around her and she'll give it to me. One day she gave me enough to get a bottle of Orange Crush, a big ten cent bag of potato chips and five squirrel nut zippers. She babysat the night before for a doctor's kid and has a fortune. Five seconds after she gives me the money, I was at the corner store's candy counter bothering Frank and his overburdened wife, Agnes, (why I didn't want the name) about which candy I wanted. When I see Agnes getting mad at me for taking so long, I remind her that I am born on the feast of St. Agnes, her namesake. It was interesting at first, but now that fact is beginning to rub her the wrong way.
Mary is the prettiest of the nine of us. She has blue eyes and a long brunette pageboy that hangs halfway down her back. Daddy says she looks like Saint Maria Goretti, whatever that means. Mary takes a year to put on her makeup. Sometimes when she is primping in front of the mirror in our bedroom, she'll put a fake beauty mark on her cheek with an eyebrow pencil. I stand behind her acting like I am doing the same thing. Mary gets so mad at me that she chases me around the house, up and down the front and back steps and in and out all of the rooms. She also talks with a fake accent, like she is from France or somewhere. She pronounces her t's like it's the most important letter in the alphabet. She lifts her baby finger when she drinks water like she is fancy.
Mary and Dot are friends with the Tornetta girls who live at 201 Summit and young Trudy Duddy, who lives at 203. Did I tell you her parents are my godparents? Their duty is to make me go to Mass if my mom and dad die all of a sudden. It is an important assignment.
Anyhow, together these girls put on shows in Duddy's basement. They charge a penny, which I think is a little steep. Too bad we can't have shows in our basement! We could be rich! The dirt floor, the old coal furnace and a coal bin filled to the ceiling with dirty black chunks of coal is not good for shows. Also, we have a toilet Daddy put above the drain on top of four bricks for those emergency times when somebody is pitching a tent in the only upstairs bathroom. Daddy is a handyman that way.
Dot and Mary get a penny from Bunky and Kathy Fox one day. It doesn't bother me because they are two rich kids my age whose father is a big shot lawyer. They live near us in one of the big mansions on DeKalb Street. They have two Negro maids, Doshia, who is a quiet older lady with a bun in the back of her black hair, and Bernie, who is pretty and speaks softer than anyone I ever heard. When I see Andy Scherer in the audience, though, I feel bad. He probably had to steal the penny.
When the two green army blankets hanging over Mrs. Duddy's clothesline get pushed back by the Tornetta sisters, Dot is standing up ready to sing "The Little White Cloud That Cried" by a guy named Johnny Ray. Mary and I are sitting down on the cold concrete floor smiling up at her. Mary ironed my Easter dress for the occasion. I didn't have anything to do in the skit but smile at Dot. Believe me, smiling for a long time at your sister is not easy.
"And all at once I saw in the sky, the little ..."
My lips hurt from smiling so long. Now I know how tough it is to be in the movies.
Chapter SixThe Three Little Ones
So, anyway, I am the first of the three little ones. I am a short girl who wishes she were a boy. Like I said, I am part of the post-World War II baby boom which started the month and year I was born. A million other kids were born then, too. I am quiet and like to read. I am a tomboy, which is a kid that doesn't wear frilly dresses or act giddy over things. I like to run through the woods with my two younger brothers. We have a secret code we yell out to find each other.
"EE AH KEE!"
Some people think I am smart, but I just keep my mouth shut and listen to adults. I like to listen to Nellie Howard and my Grandmom Mulhall talk. Nellie has an Irish brogue. Everything they talk about is cute. They forget I'm there sitting on the floor beside Grandmom's chair. I listen to them throughout several cups of tea. Grandmom lets me drink tea out of a real cup and saucer. She loads it up with a lot of milk and some sugar.
Tommy is my favorite brother of all times. Maybe it is because he's my Irish twin. We are part of a gang of kids who hang out in the woods at Brown Street. The gang is me and my two brothers, Johnny Rose (a guy who is shorter than me and lets me ride his two wheeler – which I like because I can touch the ground to stop), my two cousins, Billy and Eddie Young (who live at the bottom of Summit Street in a really big white house) and the Duddy boys, Terry and Johnny.
If we are not in the woods, we play in the holes in our cement walkway. Usually army men go on expeditions through the pieces of concrete and into the rivers made by the backyard hose. Sometimes we use bricks and play run the bases.
Michael is the baby of the nine. He's the funniest one of all of us. He behaves in front of grownups and makes faces behind them. This cracks Tommy and me up. He knows how to get money from Mom. She seems happy to "lend" him money when she wouldn't think of it with the other eight. He has a buzz haircut during the summer and bright blue eyes like Mary. He's curious by nature, so when he finds a can of lye near our curb, he decides to taste it. He lived to regret it.
One day we decide to go into the Italians' house on the corner. There is a wake going on and we never a real dead guy. Because we are scared, we get giddy. As soon as we cross the threshold, we turn serious. The widow walks up to the casket with us. We can barely breathe. We look at death and freeze. The old Italians talk in their native language. I bet they are saying how happy they are because three kids came to see the dead guy.
Then Michael whispers, "Hey, the rosaries are moving!"
In a flash, the three of us run out of the house and don't stop until we get to Arch Street.
CH7[ School Days, School Days
I am tired of always sitting in the first desk, first aisle. You get picked to answer questions and kids bust on you for being a shrimp. I am so little that I get chosen to be a baby in this play about a snowstorm. The real baby is sick. Some nun decides to wrap me up in a blanket and the seniors carry me across the stage. I pass a whole bunch of faces of the actors. If I was just a little bit taller they would have picked Mary Tornacci.
Daddy thinks he looks like Bing Crosby and sings songs some times at the dinner table when he feels like it. He's got a million 78's in the kitchen closet where he stashed his record player. He says Bing Crosby is a crooner and that isn't easy to do. He says he has something in his throat that makes him croon. A gift from God. I try to imagine having something in your throat as a good thing.
I say my prayers at night. I pray for everybody I know in a few seconds because I am good at memorizing. Then I say "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."
Excerpted from Lost in the Crowd by Kathleen Mulhall Haberland Copyright © 2010 by Kathleen Mulhall Haberland . Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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