A man, Jim, meets a woman, Edna, at a wedding. They fall in love. A marriage and 6 kids later, they live with 10 people, and a dog, in a house with one bathroom. They bounce from Brooklyn, to Long Island, and summer at a lake house in rural Connecticut. Flash forward a generation. Now they sit on the screen porch off their bedroom, overlooking the woods in Connecticut, and recounting the tales of their marvelous life together amongst their 14 grandchildren.
As simple of a story as it may seem, the amount of mischief, adventure, love and laughter in this family, is really quite remarkable.
Jim was a New York City cop, in one of the most elite and dangerous police groups of the time, The Seven-ups. He was involved in what was one of the most famous drug busts in the U.S.. They went on to make a movie about this mission, The French Connection, and another just about his group, Seven-Ups. Edna grew up with her parents, and her sister, Roberta. She was a secretary for the FBI.
Jim and Edna had 6 kids in the span of 8 years: Bobby, Jimmy, Billy, Cathy, Jeanne Ellen and Roberta.
They grew up in a small town with: all 6 kids, Edna, Jim, a dog, their grandmother and Edna’s sister, Bobby. To give you a proper perception of this family, I’ll tell you to imagine The Brady Bunch, in a much smaller house, plus 1 person, with a lot more yelling. Edna an angel to the boys, and Jim a saint to the girls, the two were a combination of parents, and wound up being responsible for the lives of 20.
The 6 children were close in age, which created an extremely tight knit family. They would play games together, like “Who can sneak the most stuff out of mom and dad’s room without them noticing?”. They would fight, like when Jimmy and Bobby tied billy up and shoved him underneath the bunk bed so that he was stuck down there. They would negotiate, like when Roberta, the youngest, didn't have her own bed; so Cathy and Jeanne Ellen forced her to tickle their backs until they fell asleep in exchange for a spot on their beds. They would cause trouble, like when a young Jimmy snuck 5 year Cathy on a bus to the Manhattan Mall without telling the adults. They would find loopholes, like when Cathy put a lock on her closet, to keep Jeanne Ellen and Roberta out, so the two used hangers, and swung them against the bottom of the door in an attempt to snag some sort of garment for themselves, They had nicknames, like: Salt-man, Watermelon, Bird-Brain, Button-Nose, and Witch. They threw parties when their parents were out of town, they probably would have gotten away with it too, if someone hadn't body slammed another kid onto the coffee table and broken it. And 5/6 of them would go on to have kids of their own.
Cathy and Roberta both with 3, Jeanne Ellen with 5, Billy with 2 and Jimmy with just 1, me. The couple went from Edna and Jim, to Mom and Dad, to Nana and Pop.
After a while, the two moved to Connecticut permanently. They now reside in a house by the lake, with a back porch, a big basement, 7 beds, a blow up mattress and a boat in the dock. For the grandchildren, summertime is full of weekend boat excursions and day trips to visit our beloved grandparents, and winters break is often spent at their condo in Florida. "Home away from home" doesn't begin to describe the level of comfort the comes with Nana and Pop's house.
Jim and Edna were a lot of things: happy, stressed, tired, satisfied, but with 14 grandkids, 5 living children and 5 son/daughter in laws, they were never alone.
As close in age as the children are, the grandkids aren't too different. Every kid has a cousin to match. My match is a girl 1 month and 1 day older than me. To this day, I consider Molly the sibling I’ve never had. Never a dull moment with the “Pigeon Sisters”. Years of using White-Out as nail polish, toothpaste as lotion, a few bite marks, playing stylist and butchering each other’s hair, and 4 stitches later; we don't let a day that goes by without speaking to one another. The distance of an hour and 20 minutes doesn't prevent us from visiting at least twice a month. With 3 sisters of her own, Molly often escapes her big house in rural Westchester for small town Long Island, to stay with my family some weekends. My friends have grown so accustomed to her that they act as if she lives here. Through anything and everything, no matter the circumstances, there is no one besides her that I’m absolutely certain I can rely on. My cousin, and my forever friend. I’ve never been more comfortable, and absolutely satisfied in the presence of someone, as I am with Molly.
But the two of us aren't alone in our schemes, our twosome becomes a foursome when we come together with the brother and sister duo, Liam and Ally. With Liam one year and Ally 3 years younger than Molly and I, our close proximity in age has allowed us to grow up and mature together (although, maturity never was our strong suit). We’ve grown accustom to each other’s ticks and peeves, plotting out exactly how to annoy one another and knowing precisely what gets under the other’s skin. For example: Poking Molly is like poking a bear. You’ll get scratched up the arms or a nice whack on the shoulder if you poke Molly in any form, other than Facebook. Cheating in a board game with Liam is practically suicide. You’ll not only get humiliated in front of everyone playing, he’ll most likely give you a form of punishment that ensures your lose of the game. With Ally, you have to finish whatever you start. There is no veering off track or abandoning of any conversation or game. Nothing makes Ally more annoyed than leaving something unresolved. When it comes to our little group, C.L.A.M., causing trouble and annoying the life out of one another has been our forte for over a decade.
The other iconic, power-duo in our family is the always hysterical, Amanda and Sarah. These two are what I consider and first generation Molly and I, but probably funnier than us. The most accurate description of these two that I can think of, is truly the most incredible crowd pleasers, and two of the most outgoing people I’ve ever met. There is an intimidation factor that comes with being as funny as Amanda and Sarah are, but they tear down that barrier with their charm and kindness. In relation to Liam, Ally, Molly and I, Sarah and Amanda were always given the “Your guys are the oldest in the house, you're in charge.” talk before a parent outing. There was a day, about 4 or 5 years ago, when the two took this “eldest in the house” role very seriously.They turned Liam, Ally, Molly and Kate (the youngest grandchild) into their soldiers. They threw records, twisted arms and had no mercy when it came to someone laughing during what they referred to as “bootcamp”. Being that Sarah is Molly’s older sister, Molly took the worst of the beating. Luckily, I wasn't present for the day of physical terror, but part of me alway wished I was. The foundation of our family is made up of inside jokes and memories, and this is one story that never gets old. Despite the moments of chaos and pain that came with being younger than Sarah and Amanda, the two really did contribute in creating a loving and nurturing environment for us to grow up in. I was a very nervous kid, scared of something as simple as rain. I wouldn't take a risk for my life, but somehow Amanda helped me get on my very first REAL rollercoaster in 2012, and held my had the whole time. When I was about 9, I stood on the edge of our boat and tried to muster up the courage to jump into the lake. Sarah waited in the water right below me with a noodle and told me that she was going to make sure I didn’t drown. 20 minutes and a pep-talk later, I jumped in. I thank these two for seeing me through some of the most minuscule, but significant milestones in my childhood.
Emily, being the eldest girl, has always been a sort of mother/ big sister to the rest of us. She’s been beside us as a caring babysitter, a true friend, and a phenomenal hairdresser. Looking up to her is one of the things I remember most vividly when thinking about my childhood. We all aspired to one day obtain some of the lovingness and positive energy we saw in Emily. There is an immense sense of envy that comes with being a 10 year old looking at a 16 year old, but she always made sure that she included us as often as she could. Often when it came to Emily, envy quickly turned into admiration.
Whether it’s through amazing senses of humor, or a phenomenal senses of maturity, every one of the 14 grandchildren have been amazing contributors in one another’s lives.
I cant say that our family has many upstanding traditions. The closest we really get to consistency, is always eating at the same 2 restaurants. But what we lack in regularity we make up for in memories. We’ve got more stories than a person can count, and they never get old. Sean and James showing up to formal night wearing bathrobes, Jack singing don't stop believing SOLO on karaoke night, Willy tying a sheet around himself while throwing circular pillows as if they were frisbees and referring to himself as the pillow bandit, patrick teaching us the younger kids the words to a wiz khalifa song when we were 9, the big kids forcing us to watch slum dog millionaire when we were 8, the adults forcing each of us to make a small speech on Christmas day, breaking and repairing the ancient nintendo console. Some of these memories are practically impossible to understand if you weren't present, “you had to be there” is probably one of the most commonly used phrases amongst our family.
With every family, comes drama. With ours, drama is overshadowed by love. There isn't much room for anger when you have as much compassion going around as we do.
I thank my lucky stars everyday for giving me a family as amazing as mine, but no amount of “lucky-stars” can ever compare the thanks that we all owe
Jim and Edna, Mom and Dad, Nana and Pop.