In the Catholic community of Columbus, Nebraska, (and elsewhere of course), large families were not unusual when I was growing up. Actually, large families – whether Catholic or not – were not terribly unusual in the 1950s. It probably had something to do with the effects of having lived through World War II and seeing all of that death. Making new life probably sounded pretty good.
I had friends who had families ranging from five or six kids all the way up to 11. Eleven kids. Imagine. I’m pretty sure I’d forget their names.
I come from a family of four kids, and so did my dad. Bill also has three siblings. Compared to some of my friends, that was a smallish family. But when I had Court, four kids was nearly unthinkable and two was the conventional number. At some point, however, three and four kids has apparently became the new two. I say this because we have two children with four kids, a niece with three kids, and a nephew with four kids. I’m still sure I’d forget their names. Of course, I forget everyone’s name these days.
I have no idea as to why we had four kids in our family. I don’t know if that was my mom and dad’s ideal number or just the number God gave them. I don’t know if we were planned or unplanned. Frankly, I don’t care. What I do know, however, is that my mom was the youngest of 14 kids.
Imagine that. Fourteen.
It’s true the eldest in her family was born and died on the same day, but still….14 kids.
Here are the years they were born: 1904, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1912, 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1922, 1924, and 1926. Do you know what that means? It means that my grandmother was pregnant and/or nursing for 22 years.
From things my mother said as I was growing up, it appears she was not close to her mother. For one thing, Mom was a very young woman when my grandmother died. What’s more, I think Grandmother was sick with heart problems for much of the time after my mom was born in 1926, making her perhaps physically, but certainly emotionally, unavailable.
She was, however, close to her siblings. Her eldest sibling – named Clare — and her next eldest sibling – named Vickie – sort of took over the role of mother to my own mother. Clare was 21 years old when Mom was born, and married to boot. Vickie was 20ish, and she married a year or so later. So, the age difference accounted for the fact that Mom had nieces and nephews that were her age or older. More like siblings than nieces or nephews.
I’m taking you on a walk down Memory Lane in which most of you are wholly uninterested. But this dynamic of being the youngest of 14 kids has always fascinated me. There is always a lot of research done about family placement, but I would guess family placement theories go out the window when you have 14 kids.
Youngest kids are supposed to be highly social (Mom was quite shy and solitary), confident (she was afraid of many things), and adept at getting others to do things for them (only us kids, who wouldn’t even consider saying no to her requests). They are also supposed to be spoiled and risk-takers (no and hell no).
Despite Mom’s age difference with about half of her siblings, I have always found it remarkable (and awesome) that she made it a point of being close to every one of them. And making sure that we all knew and loved our aunts and uncles on both sides of the family.
These photos were taken at my sister Bec’s wedding in 1971. While looking at old photos I came across as I was cleaning my bedroom, I came across these, which is why you are reading this blog post today…..
While four kids might be the new two (and believe me, I’m making that one up; I didn’t go out last night and get my sociology degree), families of 14, while perhaps not unheard of, are certainly rare. In fact, in Italy, people are having so few kids that numbers of people are alarmingly decreasing.
You’d have to buy a bigger car…
This post linked to Grand Social.