I asked a number of people to recall their experiences for my article Surviving Big Families (yet to be published). Below is an edited excerpt by my friend Sue Anne Randazzo, a deaf sign language teacher. She sometimes ‘signs’ to me across the room at our yoga class (where we met). In my sheer ignorance and admiration I simply nod in acknowledgement.
What makes Sue Anne’s story stand out for me is the fact that they already had 8 children when her parents fostered another child, at 4 months. That’s dedication! Also in her father’s last 28 years post-stroke he couldn’t speak, read or write. And her mother was profoundly deaf (as were 4 of her siblings).
My mum had 8 natural kids and the 9th, N, is fostered. He came to us at the age of 4 months.I am number 4 and eldest of the 5 girls. I am closest to my next sister M. We are 18 months apart. I don’t have a vivid memory of my childhood. I only remember my youngest sister being born, P. And when N came into the family. I was just thrilled each time.
We grew up in Beacon Hill in Sydney’s northern beaches area. It was a big house with 5 bedrooms but only 1 bathroom and 2 toilets. Everybody shared. I was in a room with M and sometimes with another sister. 11 of us could fit round the dining table. We always sat in the same place at mealtimes.
I don’t think we were all planned. My parents used the rhythm method but as my mum is profoundly deaf she said that she didn’t hear the beat. She also has a very good sense of humour! I think they coped extremely well with all of us.
We were on tag team coming home after hours when we were older – the first home waited until the next one came home. Like a roll call. If any of us were missing that’s when we woke up Mum and Dad. One suggested tattooing our names down their arm to make sure they say goodbye to everyone at family get togethers.
My Dad was a ‘professor of fruitology’. He wore a T shirt with this on it! He ran 3 fruit shops. 3 times a week he would go to the markets early in the morning. In the school holidays he would take us with him. I remember driving over the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the dark sitting in wooden banana crates tied to the back of the truck, looking at the stars. After school I would help out at one of the shops. I remember the tea towels stopped getting ironed when Mum began working in the business. I was about 13 then. The advent of frozen vegetables and the growth of supermarkets impacted all 3 shops. Even toilet paper was rationed at home.
I felt that my parents were very much in love. They never argued, only disagreed.
There was always Saturday afternoon sport. A typical weekend started with going to the fruit shops to work while Mum stayed at home and cooked us a ‘baked dinner’. The shops closed at 12 noon. There would sometimes be 25 for lunch as the siblings brought their girlfriends / boyfriends home. We could smell lunch cooking when we drove into our street. Some of us ate our meal on our laps in the stairs as we didn’t have room for everyone at the table.
There was a definite shift in the family dynamics when my Dad died. I think due to the fact that we all had to deal with grief for the first time and we handled it differently from each other. These days gatherings tend be at my place as I am the most centrally located to the rest of the family, based in Sydney.
Sue Anne says that the advantages of being in a big family are that my family will always be there for me. And you get to borrow clothes if you have a lot of sisters! If you need something fixed, advice or support in any way there is always someone there to help. (you have) Your own network. When the women get together we laugh a lot. We get each other’s jokes.
The down side? Financial disposition. Dad had to work extremely hard to support us. We had very little down time (we all have extremely high work ethics as a result). We didn’t get to travel.
We have Christmas Day on Boxing Day every year. The venue is shared around the family. We are getting together less and less these days. The women get together once a year. For over 18s only! Usually a weekend. One year we rented a couple of apartments in Melbourne. Recently the sisters all went to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland for a ‘soul sisters gathering’. I can’t wait till the next one!
Thanks Sue Anne for your contribution and for allowing me to post this on my blog.