Doc Singer chuckles in spite of himself. Not even all-the-way born and the baby is winking and blinking and smirking like a popcorn popper. "Those kids of yours have a brand new baby brother, Mrs. Laffingstock," Doc Singer says as he prepares to cut the baby's umbilical cord.
"Lord have mercy on his soul," Mavis Laffingstock sighs. When the baby is placed in her arms, he wiggles his eyebrows like Groucho Marx. Exhausted as she is, Mrs. Laffingstock can't help but giggle at the sight. Make 'em laugh and they might not kill you, she thinks.
"Where's the proud papa, Mrs. L.?"
"He said he had to go vote."
"Sure, patriotically voting from a barstool at the Top Hat."
"So what's this little fella's name?"
"I can't decide between Lonny and Donny."
"Two nice names. Give him both and let him pick one later."
Mavis Laffingstock regards Lonny-Donny, who is just falling asleep as the nurse scoops him up and whisks him out of the delivery room. Amid the post-partem ado, Mavis thinks, Welcome to Earth, Lonny-Donny Laffingstock. You're stuck with us now. Then she laughs and cries.
Elizabeth Rose Laffingstock (Betsy) was born to be an only child. Still, Betsy abides brother Chuck Jr.'s arrival; he's like a big toy, though she really wanted a pony. Then Margie arrives, followed in close succession by Grody, Ahmet, Ruanda, and last and least, Lonny-Donny. Why do her parents hate her so?
Betsy is convinced she was born into the wrong family. God made a big mistake. There's no way she'll let these strangers ruin her life.
Lonny-Donny sees so little of Betsy that when she leaves home for good on her eighteenth birthday he doesn't know her well enough to miss her.
Lonny-Donny's oldest brother, Charles Louis Laffingstock Jr., was big even when he was small. The older kids he hangs with all end up spending time in juvie. Chuck manages to avoid incarceration only because of his uncanny ability to appear like an innocent bystander at the drop of a hat.
Before long Chuck rules the area in a half-mile radius of Casa Laffingstock. He holds court in an abandoned garage across the gravel alley from their house. The only being on the planet Chuck fears is Chuck Sr. Fortunately for Jr., Laffingstock pere is rarely home, and when home, is rarely sober.
Second sister Margaret May Laffingstock says almost nothing and sees almost everything. She takes to her little brother Lonny-Donny almost from the moment she lays eyes on him.
Almost. Everything with Margie is almost. She almost goes unnoticed. She almost manages a smile on occasion. She almost escapes unscathed. But she absolutely escapes. Like her big sister, Margie leaves home soon after her eighteenth birthday, though in a very different direction.
Before she leaves, Margie takes twelve-year-old Lonny-Donny to Yatko's for one last ice cream sandwich. "Remember what I told you," she says as they walk. Lonny-Donny has no idea what she's talking about.
Everybody assumes Grody Weldon and Ahmet Abdul Laffingstock are twins, but they actually arrived 267 days apart. Poor Mavis Laffingstock just can't catch a break. In fact, the brothers are born so close together that Doc Singer is sure -- medical impossibility notwithstanding -- that Ahmet had to have been conceived before Grody made his entrance.
Mavis can't shake the feeling that Grody and Ahmet are psychically conjoined, though neither of the boys seems to be happy about it. Since each is absorbed by the other, neither of the pseudo-twins pays much attention to young Lonny-Donny, and the disinterest is mutual.
The Laffingstock sibling most affected by Lonny Donny's election-day birth is Ruanda June, penultimate on the list of Chuck and Mavis offspring. Even though she has only recently begun toddling when Lonny-Donny arrives home from the hospital, Ruanda is sure that her little brother's sole purpose in life is to amuse her. And Lonny-Donny does nothing to disabuse Ruanda of this notion. She's his first and most responsive audience. They click like a seatbelt.
Ruanda witnesses Lonny-Donny's first eye roll that very day, a response to big sister Betsy announcing upon seeing Lonny-Donny for the first time, "Ugh, mother! The ugliest one yet!"
As the Laffingstock brood gathers around the TV each evening, Lonny-Donny faces the family as they watch the box. His back to the tube, Lonny-Donny laughs and sighs along with his siblings. Only Chuck Jr. objects, but soon even he gets used to it.
While her children gaze transfixed by whatever happens to be on the screen, Mavis watches her youngest watching them and worries. The Laffingstock children are packed off to bed by the time Chuck Sr. stumbles in from whatever bowling league or men's club meeting was scheduled that night.
One morning Lonny-Donny is sitting in his high chair at the kitchen table directly across from his father, both staring into their bowls. Mavis blinks in alarm when she realizes Lonny-Donny is mirroring his father's every move. Her husband seems not to notice the pantomime.
Two spoons up in tandem, two mouths opened, two spoons inserted, two spoons removed, two mouths chewing, two swallows, two spoons up again. Between bites Chuck Sr. looks blankly across the table at his youngest, who looks just as blankly right back. Same face, 37 years apart.
Charles Louis Laffingstock Sr. and his wife Mavis are raising their brood in the same house Chuck Sr. and his siblings grew up in decades earlier, though it has been enlarged a bit over the years. Back then Chuck shared with his father and older brothers Frank and Luke a large room that took up nearly the entire second floor of the house. Chuck's sisters Mildred Marie (Millie) and Bernice Ann (Niecie) shared a small downstairs room situated next to and under the rickety stairway that divided the back half of the house.
A hodge-podge of additions provided the space required to accommodate Chuck Sr.'s progeny. His four sons inhabit the big upstairs room. Margie and Ruanda share what was formerly an upstairs cedar closet. Betsy lays claim to one downstairs bedroom, Chuck Sr. and Mavis the other.
It is in the combination living room-dining room of this house that Lonny-Donny's grandfather teaches him to play checkers, and shares the stories of his life -- all without speaking a word.
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