My husband Frank has 11 siblings.
I didn’t quite believe him when he told me. I was 16 and on a date when I asked about his family. Twelve kids in a family seemed like a lot. He is fifth in birth order. I am the oldest in a family of four.
Most of my friends were from families where there were only two kids. This seemed much more attractive to me, especially at Christmas. I often had high hopes that were reigned in by my mother’s reminders that there were, after all four of us. I often wanted to suggest who we could send back, but spanking was allowed back then.
I couldn’t even begin to imagine having 11 brothers and sisters. I asked Frank questions, trying not to be rude. “Did you live in a big house?” He would simply answer no. “Did you have your own room?” Another no. He was then and is now a man of few words.
Then he invited me to go home with him at Easter. My parents gave permission. It was a six-hour drive. I have to say I was nervous. We were going to a farm. I was going to meet a lot of people. I was also afraid of cows.
Something happened the closer we got to Frank’s home in Rocky Mountain House. He started talking. He would tell a story about this house or that road. Soon he was chatting up a storm. By the time we pulled into his parents drive he was someone totally different from the quiet guy I left home with.
His parents’ home was a cozy white farmhouse. From the outside it did not look capable of housing a family with 12 kids. Once inside though it was a hub of noise and activity. There were little kids and medium-sized kids and grown-up kids. I couldn’t tell the littlest boys Peter and Joe apart. His oldest sisters Francis and Leslie had little ones of their own that added to my confusion.
I spent that weekend getting to know their names and trying to understand how they ever got to school on time when they only had one bathroom. It was a bit overwhelming. At 16, I didn’t think too much about what it would mean to become part of a family that big. Now that I have been part of it for 27 years I know what it means.
My husband is a man who has a lot of common sense. He is a good sharer. Little things don’t usually bother him too much. He takes good care of his possessions and he always cleans his plate. I credit these qualities to his having been raised with so many siblings.
Frank’s mother Betty loves having all of her children and grandchildren around. She is an enthusiastic, spiritual, kind woman. Truth be told I have no idea how she did it and kept all her marbles. She was pregnant for about nine years of her life. She almost always had more than one child in diapers, and not disposable ones. She always sees the good in people.
Otto, who is Frank’s father, has been on a mission to find a bit of solitude for awhile. At one family reunion he told me he didn’t care for crowds. I said, “But these are all your relatives.” “That’s my point,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. He puts up a good act but he can be seen bursting with pride when grandchildren take their first steps or graduate.
I have a lot of brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws. I’m glad to say after 27 years I can tell them apart. There is absolutely no chance of mixing Peter and Joe up. I feel lucky to be a part of them, even though there were bumps along the way. I cherish the moment Frank’s sister Carol held my baby in an intensive care unit and looked past all the tubes to say she had her father’s eyes.
I value Mary, Pauline and Carol’s gardening ability and will be eternally grateful for the garden they built for us. I also know not to get in the way when they are eating Chinese food. It’s just really ugly.
I like seeing bits and pieces of my husband’s siblings in my children’s faces and personalities. When it comes to this family, more really has been better than less.
“Mary Englebreit Heart Punches” Le Petit Poullalier @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
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