Mother had a full house, a full heart, a full life

Family Matters

September 12, 2004|By Susan Reimer

FOR MORE THAN 30 summers, Gloria Brader fed supper to her brood -- plus any number of strays -- on the enormous back porch that stretched the length of the house on 11th Street in Ocean City, Md.

She used to rush around hollering "fishes and loaves, fishes and loaves" as the four tiny kitchens in the subdivided beach house pumped out enough food for as many as 35 people made ravenous by the sun and the sea air.

They are called "back porch suppers," and they are as miraculous as anything on Mount Sinai, the way they bring family and friends together every day. Five daughters and their husbands, 15 grandchildren, nine dogs and friends of every age and connection. Perfect strangers had been seen at the table as well.

"No one counts anything. No one keeps score. Everyone just shares, and there is always enough," says Linda Dashiell, the youngest daughter.

"But she was always the last to eat."

Gloria Brader, the bonfire of love and firm direction around which this sprawling family danced every summer at the beach, died May 30. Suddenly. Shockingly. Of a cold.

And her stunned daughters -- Cindy Janaskie, Susan Maynard, Debbie Kidwell, Darlene Kwiatkowski and Linda -- have spent this summer trying to act as if it didn't happen, picking up three decades of ritual and routine like nothing more than a dropped stitch.

"This house has always been for the family, but no one has ever been turned away," said her husband, Bill Brader, a retired insurance manager from Salisbury. "She wanted a place where the family would always be together."

Years ago, the family expanded to a second house next door and two of the five daughters and their families stay there while the rest camp in the main house.

Bill Brader laughs when he refers to it as "the compound." Like the Kennedys'. Over the years, lofts and porches and crawl spaces have been carved out of these old houses by the clever sons-in-law, and there might be 30 or 40 people asleep under the eaves each night.

In the postage-stamp-sized yard between the two houses, there must be 20 bikes, each taped and painted in some new combination of colors each summer in a ritual designed so that it can be identified if it is stolen.

Forty or 50 beach towels are draped everywhere. The washing machine runs continually. So do the showers and the toilets. You might find just about anybody in your bathroom.

"You don't own anything around here," said Linda. "Not even your clothes."

The grandchildren range in age from 10 to 28. One is getting married, while another still isn't allowed in the ocean by himself.

They all surf. There must be 30 surfboards of every size lined up like soldiers in the corners of the house.

All of the grandchildren have jobs and, even though sleeping bodies are scattered around these two houses like pick-up sticks, each manages to get up and get to work.

There are three lifeguards, a firefighter, waiters, waitresses and busboys. One of the kids runs the beach umbrella stand. Even the youngest ones find work cleaning boats.

Gloria and Bill's five daughters own their own businesses or work during the school year or not at all, so they have always been free to live on 11th Street from May to September. It is a long time. Much happens. Not all of it good or pleasant.

"There is always a soap opera," said Linda. "With a new update every night at dinner."

But because Gloria hated conflict so much and because her love for her family (as well as neighbors and complete strangers) was so grand, this family has spent the long summers in a house crowded, too, with affection and support and forgiveness.

"She lived life to the fullest," said Linda. "She wanted the children to be surrounded by people who believed in them and in each other."

Each summer, the family adjourns to Assateague Island for an overnight camping trip. It is a testament to the fun they always had that no one ever remembers the mosquitoes.

Gloria and Linda were always in charge of scouting out a location. This year, Linda was on her own. The appointed night for the camp-out was cold and the wind off the water was strong.

But when the spot Linda chose was suddenly, magically, awash in a breeze as soft and warm as a caress, she looked up at the naked stars and smiled.

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