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    Mom, Dad, and the magnificent seven

    Jonathan Bartlett for The Boston Globe

    The second-floor apartment of a typical two-family in Dorchester was my first home.

    The layout was common, too — living room, dining room, and kitchen going back on one side, a large reception hall in the middle, followed by the “telephone hall” and a bathroom at the end. Three bedrooms were lined up on the other side. What was a bit different was that there were nine of us living in that space. Six children were born within seven years. I was the seventh. My uncle lived with us until I arrived. The size of our family was not terribly unusual at that time, especially in an Irish Catholic area.

    I had favorite places in the house: the nook, the attic, and the front porch. The nook was an alcove in the kitchen where all weekday meals were eaten. There were two wooden benches on either side and a chair at the end for my father. Too bad if you were the farthest in and needed to use the bathroom before the meal was completed. You had to either crawl under or climb behind the others on your side. Of course, it was great fun to try not to let the person out easily. The nook was the regular place to do homework and, in later years, the most common location for very competitive cribbage games with my then-boyfriend and now husband.


    The attic was reached by a pull-down stairway in the front hall. Lots of interesting things were stored there: less-used toys and already-read books, Halloween costumes, and Christmas decorations. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but I loved that I could go up there and be alone. My two older brothers, however, loved to fold up the stairs, stranding me. I was unable to let the heavy stairs down by myself.

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    The front porch was our summer “vacation” spot. There was a large awning, which kept it somewhat cool, and a glider on which to relax and watch the world go by. We lived on a main street, so there was a lot of traffic and walkers to observe.

    My parents had their own bedroom, my three brothers shared a room, and my three sisters and I had one that was not very big. My parents solved the space problem by putting two of us in a double bed, leaving the other two to share the pullout couch. It sometimes involved gymnastic movements just to maneuver around the open couch and reach the bed. We also shared one not-very-large bureau.

    This was the 1950s, and unlike in most homes today, there was a single bathroom and lots of door banging when the user took too long. No shower, just a tub.

    My parents had a brilliant strategy to keep all seven of us somewhat quiet. They told us the elderly people downstairs owned the house and would make us move if we were too noisy. We were very nervous when the neighbors died, thinking we would have to move. It was only then that we found out our parents actually owned the house.

    Dorothy Dunford, retired director of education for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, lives in Dorchester. Send comments and a 550-word essay on your first home to Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.