“Rusty did it.”

From left, the Rich siblings – Rusty, Deb, Jody and Lisa – then and now. Photos courtesy of Jody Rich

Didn’t matter the infraction, Rusty got blamed.

“Who drank the last of the milk and put the empty carton back in the refrigerator!?”

“Rusty did it.”

“Who left their dirty plate under the couch!?”

“Rusty did it.”

Now, nine times out of 10, Rusty did do it, but not always. It became a running joke.

He didn’t have to be in the house, but he got the blame. Fortunately for us, he took it in stride.

After he moved out and visited, it would start all over again.

“Who left wet towels on the bathroom floor?”

“I did it.” He would laugh before anyone could take responsibility.

Then there was the time I had to get back to the University of Maine at Farmington and had no ride. Who gave me that ride? Rusty did it.

There was the time a baby was being born way up north, and it was snowing. Who drove the soon-to-be grandmother up there? Rusty did it.

Who taught us which bars to stay away from in Lowell? Rusty did it.

We have gotten along. We’ve been estranged. We can all shoot pool. We know every word of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.”

We were never a “team” of siblings, planning and executing anything. We weren’t like that. Our street had so many kids, we matched up by ages across families, so we each had a peer group. We could play with the Connolly, Hemingway, Kent, Boucher, even the Pouliot children. Rusty and Deb never heard, “Take your younger sister with you.” Or “Watch Jody or Lisa.” We were a street of siblings. Everyone watched everybody else.

Oh, you can be sure that each mother had equal access to discipline. Mary C. could yell at Rusty and Debbie just as easily as she did her own. Mom could screech at Tricia with the same vehemence as she did Lisa. Rusty, Ronnie and Wayne were open season to any adult who saw them as much as breathe in the wrong direction. Claire never yelled, but Beverly K. had a set of lungs on her. If memory serves correctly, she had a fly swatter she kept handy, to make her point.

Baby sitters were always just next door. Kathy watched us. Marilyn watched her siblings. In time, I watched Jane. Susan took me to my first movie, in Lowell (“Mary Poppins”). Older kids watched and yelled at the younger ones. Didn’t matter what the last name was. We would fight, compete, ignore and taunt with equanimity.

But at dusk, the dads would sit together outside and drink beer. The moms would sit under the oak and have their iced coffees. We would all play Kick the Can in the street. For a couple of hours, all the siblings on Darlene Circle got along beautifully.

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