THE LAST CHILD
Christmas was always a big deal at our house. I have Christmas memories for every school year. Dad would start saving money via THE CHRISTMAS CLUB at the local bank somewhere around the day after Christmas, and by the following year always had enough money to get all of us everything we wanted. We would go to bed on Christmas Eve (for years the three youngest slept on a large bed in the dining room) and I would wake up several times in the night to see if Santa had left the toys under the tree.
The tree decorating ritual was something to behold. Dad would do the honors every year. By the time the thing was up, he had had so much trouble, with lights that didn’t work, stars that wouldn’t stay on top, Mom offering unsolicited comments, and a bunch of kids running around, that he would loudly swear, “This is the last year we are having a tree!”
He made this oath every year that I can remember. He was always sure to bang his thumb with the hammer, and this would further his profanity-laced tirade.
Some years the tree would come crashing down just after he finished, totally destroying his two hours of labor in a spray of shattered glass and blown out lights. Then he would go ballistic.
This was such a tradition that one year in my teens, in anticipation of the fun to come, I secretly tape-recorded him putting up the tree. It was a classic. Mom and I laughed ourselves sick listening to it again and again. Sure enough, the tree came crashing down that year, as I guess I subconsciously hoped it would. I’d love to have that tape today.
All the kids have great Christmas memories, but one Christmas stands out above them all.
By December 1966 there were eleven kids in the family. Kenny and Wayne and Leah and Dee Dee had moved out, leaving only seven at home. Donnis was 18 years old, Steve 13, George 12, Kim 9, I was 6, Kirk was 4, and Robyn was 2.
Of course, Mom was pregnant. From the time my memory started, at about age four, I remember her as always being pregnant. She was 42 years old now, and expecting Jimmy, the baby of the family. When the doctor told her at age 42 that she was about to give birth yet again, she nearly fell off the examining table. She told him she COULDN’T be pregnant. But indeed she was.
Two things the doctor told her. First, he said, your baby will either be an idiot or a genius.
Then he recommended she have an abortion. Even though this was illegal in 1966, if the doctor signed off for medical reasons, it could be done. She declined the offer.
The baby was due at Christmas time. Dad was 46, and very proud.
That Christmas, I got the WIZZ FIZZ soda fountain toy I always wanted (“Always wanted” meaning for the month since I saw it on TV). I pestered my Mom to death for this thing (Looking back, Dad may not have minded those twelve-hour workdays so much, after all. The deafening clatter of his bread truck may have been a soothing balm compared to the chaos at home). I would come home from school at lunchtime and throw tantrums demanding the toy be bought and waiting for me by the time I got home from school that afternoon. Being a little six year old obsessive-compulsive, it wasn’t enough that the toy be gotten for me by the time I got out of school that afternoon. I gave explicit instructions on WHERE it had to be sitting (on top of the dining-room bureau) as well as the specific AREA of the bureau it needed to be sitting in (directly in the center). Of course my misery was compounded when, upon arriving home from school, I saw it wasn’t there. I would then throw another tantrum.
I want to digress a bit more here and reveal another fun thing my Mom had to put up with from me for at least part of one grade-school year. When I would leave for school in the morning, I would come back to the front porch from the corner about five times, alternately telling her that I loved her or hated her. I would stand at the front door and knock until she came to the door. “Mom…I have something to tell you….” I would whine. After the fifth time, her patience exhausted, she would finally yell, “Get off this porch and get to school! And don’t come back!” I knew then to run. You could push Mom incredibly far, but once her nerves snapped, watch out…You had better run, and stay away for awhile. How she kept from drowning me in the sink, I will never know. And that was just me. There were all the other kids to put up with, as well. My point is, you can just imagine how thrilled she was to be blessed with a twelfth baby at age 42.
Jimmy was born Christmas Day, 1966. They would have aborted a perfectly healthy baby boy.
That Christmas was fantastic in every other respect as well. As usual, we all got everything we wanted, with no appreciation for the father who went into debt to get this stuff for us. We believed Santa Claus bought it.
I will always remember the front door opening a few days later, and my Dad walking in, all smiles, and carrying these glass baby bottles in a pan. Behind him came Mom, and in her arms, wrapped in a blue baby blanket, our new baby brother. JAMES SCOTT KOPKO, they named him. They said it would be a good name if he ever became President.
Whenever he peed on my Mom or Dad when they held him, they would laugh and say, “I can always say the President peed on me.” They were both so proud to be holding this newborn at their age. They could have been his grandparents. In fact, at least one of their grandchildren is about the same age. Mom now had a son in college, and a newborn son.
She had given birth to nine children, lost one in childbirth, and had three stepchildren.
She never could get all our names straight if she was yelling at us. She would stand right in front of you to yell at you for something, and call you by about eight wrong names before you finally gave her yours.
She could tell each child how long she laid on the labor table to give birth to them, and used this as a guilt trip. “I laid nine hours on the labor table to have you………”
With all these kids, there is no way she could keep an eye on every one every single minute. That’s how baby Jimmy came to fall out the window.
He was about one or so by now, and it was a Sunday afternoon. I watched as he climbed onto the windowsill, and plopped right out of the dining room window, which was wide open with no screen. It might have been spring, or it could just as easily have been the middle of winter. In that house, who could keep track of open windows? He hit the ground below with a thud.
I sensed the urgency of the situation, but kept calm. I walked into the kitchen to inform my mother.
“Mom……” I started. She was busy with something or some kid, and ignored me. She had kids pestering her all day long from the time she had her first cup of super unleaded coffee until she sucked down her last Pall Mall at bedtime. Kids would physically hang on her, and she would go from room to room with them dragging on her leg. We gave her no peace.
“Mom……” I calmly tried again. Again she ignored me.
I had to get through to her. No telling what condition Jimmy was in on the ground outside.
This is why some of her kids became football stars, some became circus clowns, and one even went to Princeton University. To get any attention from her at all, you had to be bigger than life. With 12 kids, she had to tune out whatever she could to keep her sanity.
I persisted. “Mom……..” I may have been tugging on her housecoat, I don’t recall.
Finally, she had had enough. I had gotten through with my annoying persistence.
“Whaaaat??!” she screamed at me, as only she could, that scary face coming on her warning you that this had better be good.
“Jimmy fell out the window……..”
That awful AAAHHHHH! AAAHHHH! AAHHHH! scream came from her next. All her kids know exactly what it is. You would do anything, promise her anything, plead with her to make her stop that awful scream.
In a panic, she ran outside to retrieve the fallen toddler, my Dad running right behind her in his baggy blue Freihoffer bread-man work pants and white t-shirt. Baby Jimmy lay on the ground, bawling his eyes out. She scooped him up and checked him out, brushing off the dirt. Miraculously, he was completely unharmed. She held him and talked baby talk to him, bouncing him in her arms as she brought him back into the house. Washing him off in the kitchen sink, she calmed him down. She really believed he had an angel protecting him.
And she REALLY came to believe that sometime later after his next brush with the grim reaper while he was still in diapers.
I was home from school faking sick to watch cartoons, and Mom was taking an afternoon nap. As she recounted the story later, she heard a voice calling “Louise…..Louise….”
It was persistent, and woke her from a sound sleep. She got out of bed and felt strongly to check on baby Jimmy. When she got to his playpen she discovered that he had somehow gotten his blanket wrapped around his little head and was suffocating. She got the blanket unwound and saved his life. She ALWAYS believed she was awakened by an angel.
Who knows? He was born on Christmas day. That had to count for something.
All material copyright © 2004 by Kevin Kopko
This page was last edited on 03/3/2007