Mom and Dad were married in 1917 and had four sons: Billy, born in 1919; Frankie, born five years later in 1924; Charlie, born three years later in 1927; and little Tommy, born in 1932 — and 13 years younger than Billy.
What that means is this: When I was a toddler who hadn’t even seen the inside of a school yet, my oldest brother, Billy, was out of school and working, Frankie was in his sophomore year, and Charlie was in the sixth grade, ready to enter junior high.
The disparity grew worse as the years went by. When I was 9, Billy was married and had a kid of his own, Frankie had been out of school and working for three years, and Charlie was a teenager.
Is it any wonder that throughout my entire life, until the day I donned a military uniform, I was looked upon as “the kid”?
So what’s wrong with being the kid?
Simple. You can end up knowing almost nothing about your relatives.
Mind you, I had no complaints about being the youngest. Being “the kid” had some distinct advantages during the Great Depression, especially after Daddy died when I was just 5 years old and Mom found herself with no income. Billy had to drop out of high school and go to work. Frankie did too, but he was at least able to finish his schooling at night. And Charlie ended up living with Uncle Neil and Aunt Libby in upstate New York for quite a long while to help Mom handle the cost of rearing four boys.
But me? Hah! I hardly noticed the Depression. I still ate just as well, had just as much fun, and even had tons of clothes and toys.
How come all the toys and clothes? Simple. Hand-me-downs.
I might also mention that come Christmas each year, while I don’t remember there being much — if anything — under the tree for anyone else, there was always something great for me. I may not have gotten the fabulous toys that my cousins living up in the snobbish neighborhood atop Ward Hill got, like a new bike or — believe it or not — a complete sound effects set for a simulated home radio show. However, in Christmas 1939 at age 7, for example, the little put-it-together cardboard copy of Fort Zinderneuf from the movie “Beau Geste,” and the 18 lead soldiers that I received with it, kept me busy and happy for hours on end.
Come to think of it, if you haven’t seen the 1939 version of “Beau Geste,” which starred Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston, Brian Donlevy, and Susan Hayward, go watch the coming attractions trailer on YouTube. It’ll convince you to run right out and buy a DVD copy. What a story! What action!
But don’t make the mistake of getting the 1966 version of the film. It was thoroughly panned by the critics — and they were right!
By the way, “Beau Geste” is a great book too if you like to read.
Anyway, back to being “the kid.”
What’s wrong with it? Your parents and your older brothers and sisters, who have lived for many years before you were hatched, know all about what is called “the great family” — in other words all your aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on. They take all that knowledge for granted, but don’t share it with you because they don’t realize that you don’t know it.
Next week: How little I knew about anything.