The Title of My Blog

Some things from your childhood just stick with you.  There’s no rhyme or reason to it, and the things you remember that remain in the forefront of your consciousness throughout your growing up years and beyond may not have registered at all to someone else who shared the same experience with you. But to you, the thing just stuck and you never forget it.  You think about it so much through your childhood and adult years that it starts to somehow define you, in a way.  Or, as I am fond of saying, it becomes part of your DNA.  For me, that one thing from childhood that I’ve thought about for years is not some monumental happening that one would expect to leave a strong, lifelong impression on a child.  Rather, it’s something that I heard my mother say repeatedly, too many times to count in fact.  Here’s the set up…

My parents had eight children – four boys, four girls.  I’m the youngest boy and the second to youngest child.  Do the math and that makes me # 7.  Frequently, several of us kids would be out somewhere in public with Mom and, as sometimes happens, Mom would run into some friend or acquaintance with us in tow.  In the course of whatever conversation would ensue between Mom and the person she had happened to cross paths with, Mom would gesture to us kids as we waited patiently for her to finish talking and say something like,

“This is number 5, number 6, number 7, and number 8.  We gave them numbers in case we forgot their names.”

Hardly ever was Mom having to introduce all eight of her children as we were rarely all together, spread out as were over an 18-year span.  Usually there were just a few of us at the bottom of the pack with her.  Regardless of who was with her, this was the way she introduced us kids to people at church, in the A&P, neighbors, friends, anyone really.

In my lifetime, it has become trendy to jump on the “I was messed up by my parents” bandwagon.  Admittedly, I’ve been on that bandwagon before and still like to hop on now and again for a little ride.  By no means do I think that my Mom and Dad did a perfect job raising us; they were human, after all, and they did the best they could.  Over time, when they knew better, then they did better.  But I’d be lying if I said that I’d made it to adulthood with not emotional family baggage.  In fact, I believe that anyone who claims to have reached adulthood with no emotional baggage is either not being truthful or living in denial.

For years, through my childhood and way into my adulthood, I would hear my Mom’s voice saying “We gave them numbers in case we forgot their names” and get resentful.  How could she say such a thing?  Were we just numbers to her?  Would she ever really forget our names?  Did I really matter as an individual or was I just one among many – # 7?  As an adult, I of course now know that Mom could never have forgotten my name or the names of any of her children.  She loved us all tremendously.  This was something she said not because we didn’t matter to her, and not because she lacked the ability to see us each as the distinct individuals we were, but because we each mattered so much to her – so much so that we were each not only christened with our own unique name, but our own number as well.

For years, I’ve thought that “We Gave Them Numbers” would make a great name for a story about my family.  I just haven’t been sure what the nature of that story would be – a memoir, a collection of humorous anecdotal tales, a la David Sedaris, or some combination thereof.  I know myself well enough to know that I could spend many more years procrastinating on writing about my family because I’m hung up on some point that, at this stage, is inconsequential.  Or I could simply start writing what comes into my head.  Hardly a day goes by without some family memory passing through my head.  It might be something quite specific, or more of a general feeling of a time period in our household.  It might be sad, happy, painful, joyous, or anywhere on the emotional map.  But there are lots of memories, far too many to ever write them all down.  Written or not, they all mean something to me and have all contributed to who I am today.

And so, I’ve decided to begin this undertaking by blogging and to use the name “We Gave Them Numbers” in homage to my Mom, Carole Elaine Shutts Nichols, who passed away on January 4, 2009 from pancreatic cancer.  Now that she’s gone I know, more than ever, how special she was and how much she loved us.  We weren’t just a crowd, but a collection of unique individuals who each meant something different to her and were loved differently by her.  And we each got our own number.  I’m # 7.