I grew up in a rather small house in the northeast Auburn of the 1960s and ‘70s.
Given that there were eight of us under that roof, six kids, and two parents who smoked, you can bet it could be a crowded, noisy place.
I did not know it was anything of the sort, however, until my future brother-in-law, Galen, told me years later about the day he first met the Whales in their native den.
Galen describes it something like this: “Someone was banging away on a piano, in a back bedroom someone had the record player on full volume, someone was at work on a school project on the floor, the television was on up loud.”
Each occupant of the house, it seems, was doing whatever it was they were doing, blissfully unaware of, and not in the least bothered by, the chaos.
Galen demonstrated how crazy it seemed to him by sticking out his tongue, vigorously wagging his head back and forth and making that noise one makes when tongue and head-wagging are combined.
So I never thought anything out of the ordinary about the nights my bass-playing brother, Jim, brought his musical buddies over for jam sessions. Our living room was small, so the guys had to move all of he furniture onto the front lawn to make room for the equipment. The sessions became a regular thing. And let me tell you, they did not spare the volume.
Thing is, we grow up in the house we grow up in, and to me, same as to you, I bet, what went on in ours seemed perfectly normal. And didn’t the same things go on at other people’s houses? Apparently not.
I’ve met people who grew up in all sorts of houses with a variety of regimes, including a few at the opposite end of ours. Where the conversation was so lacking and so stilted one could have, if one had wished, heard the very cilia in one’s intestines, moving things along, I find that noise downright disturbing. So I prefer the noisier model. But to each his own.
My wife, Ann, cannot get over how rarely noise and chaos bother me. I am sure she would not be surprised should a brass band burst into the living room one day, horns blaring, drums pounding, and I pay them no mind.
It reminds me of the night when a stage set collapsed during the middle of a performance I was watching and all the actors scattered to the wings, save one. She continued at the spinning wheel she’d been working at as part of the play as if that world had not just fallen around her.
Also, given the close quarters we shared, the four boys in one small bedroom, and my two sisters in another, I marvel at how well we all got along. I remember squabbles, but no fights at all when we were kids. Seems our folks set a good tone.
I love the Amazon Prime series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” I am sure partly for the reasons I gave above. Mrs. Maisel’s family, which is Jewish, is loud, sometimes argumentative, and people are always bustling about, doing the things that made them the characters they were and endeared them to each other.
At the beginning of this article, I used the word “house” to describe where I grew up. Now let me change that word to “home,” which carries connotations that the rather bald noun “house” does not.
Be it a quiet home, a noisy home or every variation in between, there is no standard model for familial love and affection. And I’m sure if I asked, many of you would say yours was just great.
Robert Whale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.