Thursday, February 05, 2009


Mom didn't need in vitro fertilization to get pregnant. She was pregnant every two years, like clockwork. She had one stillborn baby, but the rest of us were hale and hearty. Helma weighed only two pounds, but she grew into a healthy child, her ailments behind her. Pop wanted thirteen children, but he had to be satisfied with twelve, and I believe it was Pop's idea to name us all with the same initials. This was a difficult thing to do, since the first names began with "H." Nothing can be more difficult than thinking up twelve names that begin with the letter "H." I believe they started making up names before they were through. Harlan Lavonne is an example. My poor brother, Deed, had to live with that Harlan Lavonne and still retain his dignity.

The news is filled with stories of a single mother who had eight babies, octuplets, some of them struggling for life. Discussions around every table in our country has involved the pros and cons of this event. Is it ethical to have eight babies in one fell swoop? Can this single mother, who lives with her parents, take care of this many babies properly, considering the fact that she has six other children? With her number of children, why was she permitted to have this procedure?

The key here, to me, is the grandmother. Evidently this woman has played a big part in raising these children and has reached the limit of her endurance. Explaining that her daughter has suffered some mental problems and is "obsessed with having babies," she went on to say that the thought of eight more babies to nurture filled her with dread.

In our world, so often the care of children falls to the grandparents. People in their seventies and even older have raised their own families, only to find themselves raising a second family, children they love intensely, but that call for every ounce of strength left in their aging bodies. I feel it even with my grandchildren, nerves that become frazzled more easily, physical strength that isn't there. It takes energy to entertain and nourish children, so I feel that, if you have to depend upon your parents to raise your children, it might be best to wait until you yourself can shoulder the burden. It is great for grandparents to adore and spoil their grandchildren. It is not so great to shoulder the task far beyond the time when your bones can carry the weight.

I never knew my grandparents. By the time I was born, my parents were well into middle age. As I grew up, they went from middle age to old age. I missed not having grandparents. When I heard other people talk about their beloved Grandmas and Grandpas, I always felt a pang in my heart. How wonderful it would have been to have that loving couple in my life, encouraging me, loving me, guiding me along the way. It was a void that was impossible to fill.

At the time I grew up, there were still many small farmers. They are an endangered species these days, with huge conglomerates taking over the role of producing food crops. Pop believed in having children, the boys for helping out on the farm, the girls to perform in the kitchen. Of course, Helma and I never lifted a finger in the kitchen. In the first place, the old wood stove was a source of danger to any child. In the second place, we had no interest in hard labor of any kind.

The only boys that Pop raised that one might call farmers at heart were Hubert and Herman.
They loved to putter about with Pop, walking behind the plow, taking care of the stock, working on the plow or the other machinery. Bud was more of an introspective youngster, always engrossed in his thoughts, reaching into books to learn the ways of the world. The earth, that productive soil that brought forth the crops Pop raised, had little interest to him. He spent his life working hard at his plating business, serving as a school board member, raising his children.

I have spent some time watching a series called LOST, trying to decipher its intricacies. As the plots weave and twist, I have noticed that there seems to be two heroes in this story, one a solid, reliable doctor named Jack; one a flamboyant, rather unreliable playboy called Sawyer. It is my contention that some women might be attracted to Jack for his steady reliability, while others might prefer the perils of life with the charismatic Sawyer. I would say that my brother, Bud, was a perfect Jack, steady, calm, dependable. Hubert was a Sawyer, attractive, independent, colorful.

These very different men were important in my young life. While they teased, cajoled, praised and criticized, their opinions were important to me and helped shape my views. While they were busy going about their lives, I was paying attention. I was watching them, listening, learning more from them than I did my elderly parents. I know very little of their lives with their wives, but I know they were great brothers and excellent sons.

Was it fair to the world for Mom and Pop to have so many children? It is for sure that they had little money to support them, but they had a great deal of love to go around. As children, we didn't realize that the whole world didn't consist of kids in the same boat we were sailing in, a world of tattered shoes, fading lineoleum and homemade bread. That some children lived with nannies, expensive toys, private schools and luxurious homes did not even occur to us. It was so far removed from our world that we didn't even realize it existed. We may have been poor, but we had enough to eat, we had clothes on our backs, a great many children in the family to play with, and elders to guide our behavior.

We also had that playground, that farm, with its swamps, its lake, its fields of wild grasses, its valleys and hills. We ran and played as the sun toasted our flesh while the wind rustled our hair. It was a life of freedom, of complete independence, of pure, unadulterated joy. We were one with the sun, the snow and the furious downpour. We were as close to nature is possible to be. What child needs more than this?