A few weeks ago, I began a column with, “You know you grew up in a big family if …” Little did I know, this topic would strike a chord with other survivors of big families.

One of them, Mike Desmond, circulated my column to members of his big family and they found many items I missed. Mike grew up in an Irish Catholic family with seven kids on the South Side. His wife, Mary Jo, came from a family of eight Irish Catholic kids in Winnetka. With those credentials, here’s what they came up with.

  • “No air conditioning, window fans will work fine.” Our central AC went out recently and my wife and I were nostalgic about how we grew up without it.
  • “Hiding vegetables in baked potato skin.” Wish I had thought of this. We hid our vegetables in our glass of milk, or our pockets.
  • “Never allowed to play inside.” My parents locked the doors to keep us out. The rest of the time it was:
  • “Front and back doors always unlocked.”
  • “Walking home from grammar school for lunch.” We had toasted peanut butter and jelly for eight years and never complained.
  • “Wearing same sport coat for entire year in high school.” Some wore the same sport coat for all four years.
  • “Parties in the basement.” Our basement had a full-size bar if that gives you any idea.
  • “Hitchhiking to high school.” Pocketed a lot of CTA fare for four years.
  • “Getting bulletins from church when you didn’t go.” This was a smart tactic, but we still had to name the priest.
  • “No seatbelts with at least nine kids in the car.” What’s a seat belt?
  • “First White Sox game.” There were so many of us, we could start a chant that would spread to everyone in right field.
  • “Burning leaves in the street — great fall smell.” I still miss that smell.
  • “No snow days ever.” Except for 1967, this was definitely true.
  • “Sledding all day long — dropped off at 9:00, picked up at 3 p.m.” We weren’t dropped off, or picked up. We didn’t even have sleds but we still managed to slide for hours.
  • “Skitching cars in the winter.” This involved holding tight to the rear bumper. Great way to get around … until they put on the brakes.
  • “Bread and gravy.” We ate a lot of cheap empty carbs but there was usually some kind of meat.
  • “Paper routes.” My older brother had a Chicago Tribune route that required him to wake at dawn and push a cart through the snowy streets. I went once as his helper and lasted only half a route.
  • “Mother hiding soft drinks in the oven.” My mom was an expert at hiding everything we wanted but we never had soft drinks.
  • “Mother removing TV tubes during Lent.” This sounds like typical Lenten deprivation, but all I can remember is tuna fish casserole and fish sticks.
  • “Johnson’s baby oil at the beach.” Sounds desperate, like washing your hair with dishwashing liquid.
  • “Aluminum foil at the beach.” Not sure what this was used for. We didn’t even have towels.

I really want to thank Mike for his contribution.

Here’s a few more that I remember:

Drinking water from the garden hose. Catching lightning bugs in a jar. Putting on our swim suits to play in the rain. Walking behind the mosquito abatement truck. Sitting on the curb, waiting for the Good Humor man. Coming home when the street lights came on. The milkman coming to the back door every morning.  

Mike mentioned that I don’t list my email address. It’s jrice1038@aol.com, if any other readers would like to chime in.

John Rice grew up in a big family in Oak Park. He’s happy to hear more memories from those still recovering.

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