Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven

Chuck

Chucky, Charlie, Chaz, my older brother, turned 69 this year. It’s so hard for me to believe. I’m four years behind him, and while four years was a huge gap when we were younger, thankfully, as we’ve aged, four years’ or even 10 years’ difference has faded away to nothing and age has equaled out.

Being the oldest of 11 kids had to have its challenges, but since that’s all he knew, he probably didn’t question it. There were no brothers close in age (my brother Pat was five years younger than he with two girls in between them), so whenever possible, Chucky would hang out with his cousins Greg and John, both older by a year and three years, respectively.

While I have memories of him as a younger child, most of my earliest memories of Chuck begin in our teens. His horses (Buck and Red), teasing me about boyfriends, riding me on his motorcycle. Though he went away to the seminary in 9th grade (my parents held out great hope that at least one of their eight boys would get ‘the calling’), he finished his high school career at a small Catholic school where he was senior class president and graduating valedictorian. He was obviously popular, had a darling girlfriend, and seemed headed for greatness.

College, heartbreak, jobs, and moves filled his next several years. Chuck ended up marrying my best friend from high school while in their late 20’s. After settling in northern Michigan and and then starting a family, he finally found his niche as marketing director for the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City where his engaging personality was put to the best possible use. Chuck finally achieved his own level of greatness when his 25-year career culminated in his induction into the IFEA’s (International Festival and Events Association) Hall of Fame; quite an honor and much-deserved.

So now my big brother is retired. This wonderful father of two exceptional young men is now the grampa to two (and a half at this writing) darling little girls. With some extra time on his hands between seasons (he loves winter in northern Michigan), he came for a visit a short while ago. We had such a great time together, his second morning spent sitting on the lanai where we drank coffee and talked, still in our jammies, until 1:00 in the afternoon.

Chuck is one of those honorable men who gives pause before speaking, who questions without judgement, and who listens and makes note of what’s said. He encourages and delights in others’ accomplishments. He is sincerely interested in you. With a lively sense of optimism and fun, he is his proud father’s eldest son. Often asked to speak at a celebration or a memorial, he is eloquent, humorous, and thoughtful. I admire him greatly and want only his happiness. I count myself lucky to be not only his sister, but also his friend.

Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven

Kathleen

My sister, Kathleen, my memory keeper, turned 67 this year. Two years older, she and I were pretty much inseparable into our early teens. She, with the long, wavy red hair and freckles she hated, and I with the short dark hair and crooked teeth, grew up together sharing bedrooms and bathrooms, our cousin, our friends, and our love of horses. I got her hand-me-downs and rode on the back of Clancy. Before me, she experienced the firsts like driving and dating, leaving me behind in more ways than one. Once we reached our late teens, we were like night and day, and we started to grow apart both physically and emotionally.

Kathleen, Kappy, Kathy, Kate – nicknames she loved and hated – was always the responsible one. As a kid, she could get a roll of Neccos and save the preferred chocolate ones until later. We’d both get new Easter shoes and were told not to wear them early or they’d get scuffed. She listened. A good student, she never caused a problem, even when my parents had to move her from a small Catholic high school to public for her senior year. While I’m sure she hated it, I’m not sure I ever heard her argue with them.

She married young and badly. After 19 years and two sons, she divorced and moved north to her family. With supreme struggle and the help of her clan, she was eventually able build a new career in the legal field, buy a house, see her boys off to the Air Force and to college, and finally meet the love of her life, Jim. And with her move north, we became close again sharing girlfriends, celebrations, and lots of laughter.

She has Dad’s disposition; mostly sunny with an edge of moodiness. She usually is, like him, the life of the party. She is loyal and compassionate. She will listen and encourage and offer advice, typically good if not always welcome. And though she now claims she doesn’t have a lot of memories of our growing up years, I do, and so many of them are filled with us. And while she and I may have different personalities, I’m discovering as we age how much we look alike when Facebook always wants to auto-tag me as ‘Kathy’. We may not talk for months on end, but we will eventually check in with each other, catching up and sharing our lives. And because of who she is, she will be that person, the glue that will continue to hold our large family together through the coming years.

She’s now retired from a career as a legal secretary. She is able to spend her winters in sunny Florida where her Jimmy fishes on the Gulf while she reads on the sand. Back home she volunteers, visits our mother often, and enjoys her girlfriends. She’s earned it.

Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven

Maureen (Me)

Me. Smiley (as a young child), Moe throughout most of my life, Moeski, and Maur, by Dad. I feel like I’ve had as many nicknames as I’ve had chapters in my life. The third of the lucky 11, I’m the only girl who can say I’ve both older and younger sisters and brothers. I’m a pretty typical middle child, but where do you find the middle in a clan like ours?

While I had a lovely childhood, I don’t think I was necessarily a happy child. I needed more attention than my poor parents could give, considering there were six of us between 1951 and 1959. As a mother now, I can’t even imagine how Mom did it. I know she says her strongest memory of it all is being tired all. the. time.

We grew up with horses, dogs, and cats, though the cat thing is another story. Never in the ‘popular’ group, I usually gravitated to one friend per school. I was a high-risk teenager, though no one in my family was really aware of it. Our poor parents had too much on their plates to direct their attention to one teenage girl who seemed okay. Several stories come to mind, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to share them.

After a serious high school relationship broke up, I went away to college to become a pilot. I loved everything about flying, and I can still feel the excitement deep inside me when I recall those memories. I met my future husband there, married, had three kids, and eventually divorced after 30 years. Knowing my track record through high school, it doesn’t surprise me at all that I married who I did. But he gave me three wonderful kids, so I wouldn’t change a thing.

After a career as a court reporter, I discovered knitting, opened my own shop for several years, and then reeled a bit as life dealt blow after blow, including the death of Dad, my shop going out of business (thanks, Hobby Lobby), and my divorce. I rebounded with an old love, lost my home, went bankrupt, and finally felt compelled to leave the state altogether and regroup in Florida. It has taken me years to not only like myself, but to accept who I am. My five-year employment with Hospice exposed me to some wonderfully wise people. And after two years of online dating and kissing a lot of frogs, I was lucky enough to meet David, my best and last love.

Everyone’s life is a story, and mine is no different. Would I want my secrets exposed? I’ll decide that after Mom’s safely tucked away in heaven. Would I change anything? Not if it didn’t get me right where I am at this moment. I’ve been fortunate in so many ways, and I know it. I’m Irish. I’m moody and quick-tempered. But I have Dad’s genes, so my glass is always more than half full. I love to find the humor in anything, and I love to laugh. Mom, on the other hand, is a very tough act to follow. She is the epitome of selfless and always has been. I can’t say that I got that particular gene. But she plays in my head, her little sayings, her shared thoughts. I cherish the winters she spends with me, and I love to spoil her, as does David. I’m more than lucky enough.

Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven

Patrick

My brother Pat, with the childhood nickname of ‘Pete’, or ‘Peteriskit Kid,’ is probably one of the most laid-back, easygoing guys you’d ever want to meet. He is 16 months younger than me, and the personality he was gifted with enabled him to grow and thrive, even with whiny me ahead of him and two more brothers immediately after.

He always had an impish grin, likely caused by the protruding front teeth that resulted from him sucking his thumb, but mostly because he was just a funny kid. He was cute as he could be and loved to tease me by following me everywhere I went pointing at me from behind. I’m sure my over-reaction was fulfilling to such a little boy, and I’m also sure my mother got tired of hearing me cry about it. In almost every family picture, Patrick is the one doing a karate chop over someone’s head. We called him ‘SBD’; silent but deadly.

Pat got into dirt bikes and motorcycles as a teen and began to hang out with some of the neighborhood’s more questionable characters. He loved pulling pranks and practical jokes; some were lighthearted and funny, others dangerous and slightly destructive. I’ve attached, for your reading pleasure, Pat’s anecdotal writing titled, One of Mom’s favorite sayings, ‘go outside and play,’ was really the best advice I ever followed.” Definitely worth the read to understand this guy. After my folks discovered their three middle boys were beginning to emulate a neighborhood troublemaker headed for jail, in 1974 they moved the entire family, lock, stock and barrel, to the back woods of northern Michigan.

Pat had just graduated at that time and was working for Dad doing color coating. He spent another year moving tar in the heat before deciding to head to college in Traverse City where he met his bride-to-be, Cyndi. A few years after college they were married. Pat eventually became a partner in a construction and engineering company with an emphasis in heating and cooling. In his down time he loved to fish, hunt, and run. During one of those runs he found himself quite winded and ended up in the hospital getting open-heart surgery at the age of 50. That wake up call went to all of us, and with his recovery behind him, he began to watch his diet and listen to his doctors. He’s now the proud grandpa to no less than seven (and a half) little ones, and he and Cyndi live close to all their family.

Pat has faced numerous struggles head-on with purpose and determination. I admire his ability to smile in the face of his difficulties and take humble pleasure in his accomplishments. I’m not sure I ever heard Pat raise his voice, but his presence, even in the background, is still known. Maybe because we were so close in age, but I feel a closeness with him that I’m sure he’s totally unaware of. He’s just one of those really likable people who’s fun to be around with an unexpected humor and contagious laugh. When I think of Pat, I picture him as in the photo below with a smile on his face and a beer in his hand.

Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven

Kevin

Kevin from heaven in ’57. Mom always made up little rhymes to help her remember different things. I guess after five kids in six years, it wasn’t a bad idea.

I don’t have a ton of memories about Kevin as a kid. What I know for sure is he, Pat, and Brian, who came 13 months later, were a constant growing up. They did the same chores outside, rode the same minibikes, probably taking turns because I’m pretty sure there was only one, and got into the same trouble; some more willing to take the blame than others.

As a teen, Kevin joined his older brothers in Dad’s color-coating business during the summer months. While Kev is a swell guy, he’ll be the first to admit that, at the time, he was pretty much the laziest worker out there, dragging his feet, extending his breaks, just wishing the day would go faster so he could get out of the heat and back with his buddies. And he was a slob. Yes, the boys shared a room, so it couldn’t have been pretty to begin with. But as they got older, it got so bad I think mom just ended up keeping the door closed rather than have the fight.

I have one very funny memory of Kevin in his teens. My older sister had moved out, and I was sharing a small bedroom with my little sister (by 12 years) Molly. She was probably downstairs while I was in my room changing my clothes one night. For whatever reason, I noticed movement outside my dark window only to see a Kilroy-shaped shadow peeking down over the rooftop and into my room. I could see it was Kevin, and as soon as he saw me he popped his head up and scurried across the roof. I’m not sure I even mentioned it to my mom. Living with boys was a way of life for me, and I just learned later on to keep my guard up and my shades down.

Kevin moved to Colorado in 1982 and made his home in the Springs for the past 37 years. His daughter has graduated high school, and he and his new wife, Juley, recently bought their retirement home on the Florida Gulf. He’s an altogether lovely man in every way. He is non-judgmental, supportive, and loving to all his siblings, and even though we don’t see him regularly, when we do, it’s like time never passed. He loves to reminisce around a campfire, telling stories and listening to others’ versions of the same memory. The slob has been replaced by a refined rather OCD gentleman who has worked hard to enjoy the nicer things life has to offer.

In 2015, when he and I were both single and I was living on my own, Kevin and his daughter came for Thanksgiving. Early mornings gave us wonderful time for lengthy conversations on the lanai talking about the past, hopeful about our futures. We went to the beach for a great dinner and the next day zip-lined over the ‘gators in St. Augustine, with Angelina as agile as a monkey while he and I stayed a bit more cautious. After they’d gone, I found a card in my bedroom with five $100 bills and a note that said, “Thanks for your hospitality! Go shopping!” Honestly, to this day it’s one of the most beautiful and thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me, and I’ll never forget it.

He and Juley will both be retired soon, and I look forward to having them full-time in the sunshine state. Even though they’ll be on the Gulf side, I anticipate lots of visits back and forth and lots of new memories made.

Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven

Brian

Brian in fifty-nian. Yep. That’s how we remember all these birthdays. LOL! I guess when you’re number six in eight years, you’re lucky if it’s remembered at all.

As a kid, with the silly nickname of ‘Breeder-Broy,’ Brian was a bit of a brat, never really caring much what anyone thought of what he did. He was spunky and inventive, starting his own candle-making business in the dank, dark basement of our old farmhouse. He also craved his alone time, and at one point, at an approximate age of 9, decided he didn’t want to share a room with three of his brothers any longer. He set up camp in the toy closet under the stairs with an old baby crib mattress. (Think Harry Potter’s room but way smaller.) I can still see him crouched down, pulling the plywood door closed saying ‘Nite, Mom’. It didn’t last, of course. His asthma got the better of him, and our mother nixed the closet room in short order. He loved B-B guns, motorcycles, and the outdoors, but his love of the outdoors has grown exponentially over the years to include year-round kayaking, snow-shoeing, bicycling, sailing and more.

He was handy like our maternal grandfather and began woodworking in his late teens making us napkin holders and benches. He married right out of high school, built his own home and then designed and hand-built his cabinets. With a crazy work ethic, he developed into a master craftsman in hand-built custom furniture with his work showcased in many high-end homes throughout the area. Specializing in kitchen design and cabinetry, in 2010 he partnered with a small, family-run Amish cabinet factory who now builds his cabinets to his exacting standards. Three kids and seven grandchildren later, he is the founder and president of Wolverine Cabinet Company with four locations throughout Michigan and looking to expand nationwide.

As an adult, Brian obtained his license to captain the large sailboats and will often grab some friends or family and sail the Great Lakes. With new wife Laurie, Brian is enjoying life to the fullest, relying on his excellent crew for the day-to-day running of his business and remaining always available, even when he’s sailing, kayaking, traveling, or just enjoying his beautiful hamlet on the Sturgeon River in northern Michigan. He’s happy and content and it shows. He loves his family and friends, and they love him in return.

We’ve had our differences over the years, but Brian is never one to hold a grudge and will always talk things out until there’s a resolution. Family is most important to him, and he has the gift of being able to see both sides of a situation and not judge. With age has come a humble wisdom and sense of fun that I greatly admire.

Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven

Terry

Terry. Toot. Tooter. One Christmas, when Terry was maybe 3 years old, he got a little sit-on riding scooter that he loved. He would ride that thing around our big house with abandon, a big grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye. Dad described him as ‘tootin’ around,’ and his nickname was born. He was and still is the most pleasant kid. Anyone else in their right mind would refuse to answer to that name, but not Tooter.

Terry has an interesting position in this large family. With four years between he and Brian, he would be considered the oldest in what we often to refer to as the second family. And with all of his characteristics, I would have to agree. When the folks decided to move the family to the back woods of northern Michigan away from ‘the bad influences’ downstate, Terry, at 14, would drive the old ‘Spider’ truck down the quarter-mile snow-covered driveway plowing a path. A born leader, he watched out for his younger siblings with a natural ease. He was happy pretty much all the time. A popular kid with both classmates and teachers, he thrived in the small Catholic school where he met the love of his life, Cathy.

I feel a special affinity with Terry. No one but Dad ever called me ‘Maur.’ After Dad passed, I realized Terry would occasionally call me that, and it just felt so good. I’m sure he doesn’t realize it, but in that and so many other ways I find him so much like Dad in his mannerisms, his fierce love of family, and his natural ability to be a ham. He has been a trusted confidante and a wise adviser. He and Cathy have created a wonderful family that sticks close together through thick and thin. He is slowly approaching retirement from Consumer’s Energy with a well thought-out plan (which, admittedly, is totally unlike Dad!). He’s just one of those guys you like hangin’ out with, waiting for the grin, the quick comeback, the twinkle. He loves all the Michigan seasons, skiing in the winter and enjoying their cottage on Lake Huron in the summer. But I think perhaps his favorite thing to do is sit around a campfire with friends and family, a cold beer, and a cee-gar.

Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven

Molly

Talk about a nickname! Try this one on for size: Molly Carroll O’Connor Fat Sissy Kook Babe. Yep. A pretty big nickname for a pretty little child. I think I can safely blame her oldest brother Chucky who apparently thought it was cute, and of course we just followed along. Nowadays we recite it a bit faster so it sounds more like, “MollyKelaConnorFatSissyKookBabe.”

Little Molly arrived in the nick of time to save Kathy and I from all these BOYS! A quiet little red-head with curly hair and fair skin, she got so much attention it made her quite shy for many years. 12 years younger, we three shared a room until Kathleen got married and moved out. She and I were then relegated to the brown bedroom at the back end of the hallway where we had bunk beds until I went away to college.

The flower girl at my wedding and the only girl left at home, she ended up growing up with the boys who remained. One would think that would make her a tomboy, but Molly is anything but. She competed in the local ‘Alpenfest’ queen’s pageant and graduated high school with honors. While in marching band at WMU, she met her husband Curt. With a degree in education, Molly taught second grade at the same Catholic school she attended and enjoyed raising their four kids in her hometown on the same street as our folks.

Molly is no longer the shy little red-head. She is comfortable in any setting and enjoys a great relationship with her now grown kids. With wonderful parents, Molly’s kids are a perfect example of what you hope our next generation will be. Hopefully down the road, as the ‘second’ family enters retirement age, we’ll see a lot more of each other.