A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I come from a large family.

I’m the youngest of eight children. My youngest son, Jon, is the youngest of 54 grandchildren.  Nobody is exactly sure how many great-grandchildren there are because the number changes almost daily, but a few months ago little Lilly Jean Hyer became the 1st great-great-grandchild.  Of course, this sort of thing was not all that unusual a few decades ago.  But today we’re living, breathing poster for Planned Parenthood.

We may not be “Big Love,” but we love big.

And, evidently, often.

The thing is, it could have been worse – or better, depending on your perspective.  Mom wanted 12 children – 12 red-headed children, to be precise.  Before she would marry my father she made Dad promise to give her 12 red-headed children – six boys and six girls.  Since Dad was himself a red-head, he was confident he could deliver the goods in that regard. And if she wanted 12 kids . . . well, he was certainly willing to make his contribution to that process.

So he promised: 12 red-heads.

He failed to deliver on all counts.  Not only was none of us red-headed, but their first child, Jean Ellen, came way early and didn’t have any hair at all – not even eye lashes or eye brows – for a full year.  And as for having 12 kids . . . well, I kind of ended that dream.  Mom was 39 when I was born, all 10 pounds and 14 ounces of me.  Dad said that when he saw me in the hospital bassinette for the first time he laughed because it looked like I had been held over from the last class. Mom just said “ouch!” – or words to that effect.

And that was that.

Which is not to say that there is anything wrong with having eight happy, healthy, reasonably well-adjusted children (if you don’t count the odd journalist or two).  It’s a nice, round number – four girls and four boys.  We’ve even been able to muster a few red-heads among the succeeding generations.  My nephew, Erik, has three of them (although I don’t think we can say his kids have Grandpa’s red hair since Erik was adopted – unless adoption has physiological implications with which I am unaware).

For as long as I can remember my big brothers and sisters have meant everything to me.  They were my best friends.  My heroes.  My confidants.  My teachers.  My rivals.  When I did something good they were the first ones I wanted to tell.  When I did something bad, they were the last ones I wanted to know.

Not that I ever did anything bad. It was Kathy. Honest.

I wouldn’t kid about a thing like this.

But no matter what was going on in any of our lives – good stuff or bad stuff or just plain old ordinary in-between stuff – we could always count on one thing from our siblings: love.  Unconditional. Unqualified.  Unreserved.  Unrestricted. Love that understands.  Love that embraces each other with a relentless grip.  Love that doesn’t just believe that families can be together forever – it demands it.  Love that views family relationships with the eye of a weaver, not a quilter.

You know – Big Love. The kind that can be – or should be – found in any family.

Large or small.

With or without the red hair.

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— © Joseph Walker

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