We bought our first house in 1958 for $28,500, with a whopping $10,000 down and a monthly mortgage that would barely cover my weekly food budget in 2023. We had just moved up to New Jersey from Coral Gables, Florida, near Miami, where Tom was born. As was so often true in the 1950’s, young couples moved wherever opportunity for advancement presented itself to the male breadwinner. Since Glen specialized in city management, a field that captivated both of us, we found it exciting to move from one challenging and sometimes brutal situation to another, finding that life in small-town America was anything but dull. We had lived in four places in six years, producing a child in each location. When number five arrived after this latest move, we made a vow not to move again. That is, not out of the immediate vicinity.

The aforementioned house was a new four-bedroom split-level in a quiet suburban neighborhood in relatively rural northern New Jersey, twenty-five miles from New York City. Just down the road in Murray Hill was the prestigious Bell Telephone Laboratories, which later became a subsidiary of Lucent Technologies. Surrounding us were swatches of forest area and small truck gardens. Yes, we were, indeed, in the Garden State. A great variety of fruits and vegetables were sold at roadside stands every spring and summer, but, regrettably, those days disappeared long ago. Now the area is rife with new subdivisions and corporate headquarters. Roads have been widened, trees cut down, and except for that first small town, New Providence, our old stomping ground is unrecognizable.

Since we didn’t have a fenced-in yard (an early bone of contention in our marriage, once we started having children), I had to do interminable outside guard duty until the youngest was street-wise (we’re talking suburbs, not Columbus Avenue and 96th). As soon as the children were old enough to dodge cars, I put them out to pasture in the morning with the admonishment, “Don’t come back before supper, unless you’re bleeding.” Fortunately, we lived in a neighborhood where having five or six children was the norm, so the mothers took turns providing lunches, snacks, and supervision for the mob (pre-school was unheard of). This made for good relations with the neighbors as well as a lot fewer lunches to prepare until your turn came around.

There were times, however, when a child just wanted to hang out at home, mostly to follow me around asking non-stop questions as only a five-year-old can, which is to be preferred to the endless elephant jokes I was subjected to when he reached the third grade. One day I had had enough.

“Chris…go out and play,” I commanded, “like a normal boy.” And I ushered him out the door to join his older siblings. I just needed a few moments of quiet to nurse the baby.

Not five minutes later he returned, wailing, with blood pouring down his face. “I tripped, Mommy. I was running and I tripped.”

Gathering children from far and wide, it was off to the emergency room with a startled baby, four disgruntled offspring, one a screaming boy holding a towel to his head, and a mother with a load of personal guilt. We moved fast in those days. But then, we didn’t have seat belts or car seats, so throwing the kids in the back of a VW bug, and, later, a van, where they rattled around happily, was easy. The baby went into the “boodle buggy,” a convertible baby carriage I found indispensable, and was kept entertained by siblings hovering over him and trying to keep him from being traumatized by his howling brother.

The wait at the emergency room was always a challenge as it is today, but with five children in tow, one of whom was bleeding profusely, we were triaged in short order. Babe in arms, I was ushered into a curtained cubicle while Cary (God bless the eldest), did her best to corral the remaining children. I was glad this happened on a weekend, since she was home.

In years to come, as the children grew, we became frequent visitors to the emergency room, especially with Robert. His head seemed to be made of iron and would often meet with a part of some other child’s anatomy, like a mouth or rib cage, during an innocent playground game, causing considerable pain to both parties. Usually the “other” child got the brunt of it and I would try my best to comfort the mother of the victim. But it’s rather fruitless to apologize for your child’s hard head. It is also rather embarrassing when your child is on a first name basis with the emergency room nurses.

Lest I seem heartless, my admonition about not coming home unless you’re bleeding seemed to have special relevance on this particular day. But none of the children called me on it. They knew I tended to be hyperbolic, even ‘though they didn’t know the word, and they soon learned to discount my most outrageous instructions and chalk it up to a weird sense of humor. This was not all bad, since two of my children have followed in my footsteps and used outrageous humor rather handily to further their careers.