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  • From the first, Pete was the mascot. The older children were all concerned for him. They liked him. They looked out for him. He’d point and make noises to get what he wanted. An older child would always interpret for him. “Mommy, Pete wants a drink of water…he wants a cracker…he wants out of his playpen…he wants a piece of candy …. Etc.” Rosemary would say, “Make him ask for it himself. He’ll never learn to talk if someone always speaks for him!” As a matter of fact, Pete was rather late in learning to talk. Everyone said that was because he was the youngest of six children and he didn’t have to learn; they spoke for him. (That is one of the contradictory fables about child rearing. Maryrose, the seventh child in the family, learned to talk exceptionally early. Everyone said that was because she was the youngest of a large family. With so many older children around, of course she’d learn to talk early from hearing all of them talking!)

    We had a neighbor, a little blonde-haired girl named Sheila, who was just a bit older than Pete. She would come over and visit Pete while he was in his play-pen on the front porch. As they grew, they played together. They were the fearsome twosome.

    But in the family, everyone wanted Pete to be his “buddy”. There was frequent banter with Pete about whose buddy he was. As the buddy of everyone in the family, Pete turned into the family comedian. He’d do things to get our attention – to make us laugh. (Now, I realize he was doing it to relieve tension in the family). He was never mean nor violent.

    One day, Pete and Sheila went up the Boulevard. About 5 blocks away, Brookline Boulevard was a business district. It had stores of all kinds, interspersed with some residences and apartments over some of the storerooms. Pete and Sheila, age 3 or 4, played “paper boy”. They collected all the newspapers that had just been delivered and then redelivered the papers where they thought best! Rosemary missed them and sent out the usual scouting party of our older children to look for them. They brought the two run-aways back home laughing. Who could tell how to rectify the damage?

    Another time, Rosemary had not seen the two of them for a short while. She heard a lot of clatter in the back alley and suddenly put two and two together and came up with Sheila and Pete, of course. It was a rough, dirt alley which ran downhill from each end of the long block to the low spot in the middle of the block. The rubbish men had just come through and emptied all the rubbish cans. Pete and Sheila followed up by tipping the cans over and rolling them downhill into one grand jumble! Who could tell whose cans were whose? Or, even how many went where?

    Sheila was older and the leader. Pete seemed truly to do whatever she dreamed up for him to do. One day Rosemary heard something that sounded suspicious. She went out to the back porch and there was little Pete standing on the railing of the back porch, ready to jump at her command. The big kids did it, and Sheila told Pete to do it. He was poised and ready to go! It was about 13 feet to the ground.

    (Pete clowning on the front porch of Midland Street with friend Sheila).
  • But Pete did not need Sheila to cause a stir. While he was still a toddler in diapers, 18 months old, he was put to bed early one night. The Cub Scouts were coming to do their crafts work at 7:00, and we knew we couldn’t take care of the rest of the kids, the Cub Scouts, the crafts, and Pete, too. It was a dark night in the Fall; there was a heavy downpour of rain; it was chilly. Shortly after the meeting started, the door bell rand. A neighbor from several doors down the street was there. “Is this little fellow yours? I happened to look out the window and was shocked to see this little toddler in diaper and night shirt strolling down the street in this heavy rain!” We were more than shocked. We were embarassed. Pete had slipped out the door while some of the Cub Scouts had come in.

    Pete sat beside Chris at the dinner table for quite awhile. Chris would save several bites of meat to eat last. They’d be cut up nicely and placed on the left side of the plate. Pete would carefully reach inside Chris’ left arm and spear those choice morsels, one by one. Chris would be so disappointed, then mystified, then angry as he’d realize what happened.

    Pete had a way of becoming seperated from the family. Innumerable times we called the police because we had amissing child, age 3…4….5….6…! They never found him. Either one of our search parties combing the neighborhood in ever widening circles found him, or Pete just came home, never having been lost – just missing.

    The worst lost child incident was the day we drove to Butler County to the Doers place, a country home. There we joined several families, Portmans and Wilkens, and with the Doers set off in a caravan of 4 or 5 cars, with about 16 children. We were headed about 30 miles away to Brady’s Bend, where the Wilkens had just bought an old house on a property by the river. Of course, kids traded cars, as they usually do. When we were all loaded up and ready to go, Alice Doer had to give one last minute instruction to her husband, Paul, who was not going with us. We all waited in the cars and then took off.

    It was a great day. We played ball and lawn games, and almost everyone went swimming at one time or another in the river. Towards late afternoon, the meal which had been cooked outside was ready. As usual, Rosemary prepared a plate for the youngest first. “Pete”, she called. She called and called. No Pete!

    We feared the worst! He drowned in the river and no one noticed! He drifted away and no one noticed! We searched and questioned. No Pete! Finally, Rosemary asked the children whose car was he in? No one’s! She drove out to the nearest phone and called Paul Doer. Yes, he had a little fellow here. Found him in the large sandbox, where we had been stopped at the last minute waiting for Alice. Paul assumed he was one of the relationship. He had Pete in tow as he did his chores around the farm, feeding the chickens, treating the dogs who got sprayed by a skunk, etc. While we were stopped for that short moment or so, Pete had slipped out of the car he had elected to ride in and started playing in the sandbox. He had never seen such a large one, certainly! He did not even notice when whe pulled out.

    (Photo - Caboose # 1 and #2 - Brian on the left, Pete on the right)
  • To make matters worse, the following Sunday after Mass, we stopped to talk with some of our friends. When we gathered the children to load the car for a return trip to home, Pete was not around. We just had to assume he got tired of waiting and walked home. He had, but he went the wrong way. Much later, he showed up. He was shaken. He’d thought we had abandoned him.

    So many are the stories of Pete, I’m sure I’ll forget to tell you some of them. Since he was the “little red caboose”, he reacted with many more people than any previous child. The family was larger and the other children older. There was a genial sense of fondness for Pete. He was the mascot. Of course, he played up to that position. Somehow, one does repeat and emphasize behavior that obtains attention and approval. Pete provided a running sense of humor in the household. He was too young to be aware of the real problems of the family. In fact, none of us were actually aware of the underlying problems which were creating severe tensions among us. But Pete was a good mascot. He took on himself, automatically, the relieving of those tensions by a constant bit of clowning. I’m not at all sure this was good for Pete. He did a good job at it, but I’m sure it hurt underneath. The clown is often helping others to laugh while he, himself, is crying inside. It is especially harmful to us when we feel compelled to act in certain ways but have no way of understanding why that compulsion.

    (Photo: Rosemary with Brian on the left, Pete on the right, in front of Midland Street house)
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