Here’s one of my favorite stories of all time.
Many years ago, my brother was out doing some yard work at his home with his good buddy, a big brown boxer. My brother’s hands were busy, so he tied the dog’s leash to his belt and went about his business.
All was well, until the boxer spied a couple of squirrels playing under the walnut tree. It’s like the critters knew the dog was tied up, so the coast was clear for a little squirrel roughhousing. Wrong.
The dog took off like a boxer out of heck. Riiiiiip went the belt. Doooown went the pants. Doooown went my brother. It’s hard to chase a runaway boxer with your pants around your ankles.
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The bad news is there were witnesses. It’s a good thing Mom insisted we always wear clean underwear, just in case.
Unfortunately for my brother, I became a journalist (some would argue that), and somewhere along the line the paper started paying me to write family stories in a newspaper column. Rather than being just a silly family legend, the boxer incident became everybody’s business, from Belleville to the far reaches of Clinton County.
This is just one example of what all my brothers and sisters have had to put up with for the last 30 years. Let me tell you, they are really good sports. They all have Pop’s sense of humor, I guess. He was the biggest kidder of them all.
I would have liked to have been there when Mom and Pop gathered my seven siblings together to tell them the big news: Mom’s going to have another baby.
They probably thought Pop was kidding. He wasn’t. Yikes.
Another sibling meant the Sunday soup would be a little thinner. The hand-me-downs would go an extra mile. And the whole sleeping-dining-carseat arrangement would have to change. I’m pretty sure my two sisters were hoping for a girl to kind of even things out.
One thing I can tell you right off the bat: Mom always liked me best. Ha. It must be so because that’s how my siblings teased me my whole life. Of course, I tell each of them the same thing: “Mom always liked you best.” And deep down, each of them probably believes it.
Each of us remembers those Kuhl family stories a little bit differently. The sibs straighten me out on the details (OK, there could have been just one squirrel) every once in a while but, hey, it’s my column. And I stand by it.
My brothers and sisters were all on the planet longer than I was, so they have lots of memories I don’t. I like hearing all those B.P. (before Patrick) stories at family get-togethers. I know they paved the way for me.
They talk about sitting on the far end of a board while Pop sawed away on one of his handyman projects, and fetching him the wrong type of screwdriver, and running to the hardware store to get 10-penny nails without any money, knowing Mr. Hardware Store Owner would put it on our tab.
Each of us had to clean the bathtub ring when he was low man on the totem pole. Of course, I was there longer than most so I had more rings to clean. Pre-seat belts, we each had our turn riding on Mom’s lap in the car, and the last three or four had to take a turn riding on the hump in the back seat.
All of us boys lined up every few weeks for one of Pop’s famous haircuts. The clipper had two attachments — buzz and buzzier. The dish towel he put on us got pretty hairy by my turn. And, I imagine they all liked to squeeze in between Mom and Pop when they sat in the homemade swing in the backyard on a summer night, just like I did.
Of course, the memories I write about may not be their favorites.
There was all that towel frapping I did to my sister when we washed the dishes. And the time she chased me up the staircase with a wound-up wet towel, kicked me in the rear and knocked out one of my baby teeth. A friendly battle. But I needed her around because she ate only the egg whites and I liked only the yolks. Oh, and I got a nickel for that tooth she knocked out.
I learned a lot from my brothers who were in the military. My favorite lesson was how to spit-shine shoes, since it was my job to shine everybody’s shoes when holidays rolled around. I enjoyed spitting on some more than others, depending on the odor or who was currently “on my list.”
Some of my favorite toys were the rubber tractors handed down to me. The only trouble was, my oldest sister had chewed up all the heads of the little rubber farmers driving the tractors. Some were chewed off completely. She later told me it wasn’t all her toothiwork, but we never could match the toothmarks to any other culprits.
When everybody was home, things were pretty cozy. I remember sleeping between two brothers in a bed Pop had fashioned out of iron pipes. (There was some discussion of which two were the bookends.) And we all had our places at a long Formica table Pop made with a built-in bench along one side for the littler behinds. Did they really run out of mashed potatoes by the time the bowl came around to me? Well, I will swear on a stack of spatulas that it happened more than once.
When Mom went in the hospital to have her gall bladder yanked, my brother took over the cooking duties and kept us alive till she returned. Of course, his legacy remains the rubbery pancakes he made that we tossed like Frisbees. But everything else was delicious. Really.
I never did single out which brother locked me in the upstairs closet and left the building during a game of hide and seek. He claims it was an accident. And more than one brother told me scary stories about the man with the hook for a hand who lived in the attic. And who turned out the lights in the basement where the furnaces coughed and growled and the fire glowed through their grates like big, hot teeth and ducts spread out like octopus arms? Help!
It’s been a lot of fun telling their stories a little bit at a time. I hope they don’t mind a little Pop-like teasing. They are all good sports and they taught me so much — and still do. I thank them for all they have done for me. Here’s one for each of them.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.