eight is enough

I don’t know how they managed but my parents raised six active kids. I figured my mom was pregnant for a total of four and a half years. My parents practiced the rhythm method, but it turned out they had no rhythm. The first five kids came in rapid succession, followed by a four-year pause before I came along. Imagine raising a ten-year-old, an eight-year-old, seven-year-old, six-year-old, four-year-old and an infant. I can’t. She must have changed dirty diapers for thirteen years straight—cloth diapers that she washed and dried. And she didn’t nurse, it wasn’t fashionable then, perhaps even frowned on by her peers, so she had to prepare formula and sterilize bottles. Crazy.

When I was little, my mom took me to the Prairie Market down the street, the modest bulk-food grocer of its time. I rode perched on the low front of a cold, flat metal dolly, its large rubber casters spinning and squeaking as my mom wheeled the wide cart awkwardly between aisles, my dangling feet scuffing on the slick poured cement floor. Next to me she stacked large cartons of non-fat dried milk, wire-handled plastic gallon tubs of ice cream, big boxes of wheat flakes and oatie-Os, jumbo toilet paper bundles, scores of eggs, cartons of Bisquick, countless packets of Hi-C, bacon slabs and sausage links, loaves of doughy white bread, cumbersome russet potato sacks, fish fillets, mounds of ground beef, margarine, tins of Crisco, dense ten-pound parcels of flour and sugar nearly splitting at the seams, enormous banana bunches, navel oranges and over sized jars of oily peanut butter. She worked hard to keep our kitchen well stocked.

In the summer my dad supplied us with abundant vegetables and fruits from his garden. We had corn, Swiss chard, carrots and squash coming out of our ears, all of which my mom prepared. She made bread from brown bananas or zucchini, plus strawberry-rhubarb and cherry pies and blackberry cobbler. Dad canned cherries, plums and pears and cooked up magical applesauce, pear butter, raspberry, strawberry and blackberry jams. Once in a while mom made homemade banana fritters in our deep-fat fryer or sweet cake doughnuts, shaken in a crumpled grease-stained brown paper bag full of powdered sugar.

All six of us had long lists of chores. We set the table for meals, cleared it, washed the dishes, cleaned windows, dusted, vacuumed and ironed colossal mountains of laundry before folding it. Our outdoor chores consisted of mowing a huge lawn, grooming its edges with hand-clippers (before weed-whackers were invented) raking leaves, gathering fir cones, weeding, dead-heading rhododendrons and helping dad in the garden.

It was definitely a group effort in our family, and we were all dutiful kids, at least it appeared that way to me. But no doubt my mom and dad took the brunt of life in a large family, with my dad’s modest salary, toiling constantly with little to no time for themselves to just sit back and relax. Often I think back on their immense responsibilities as our parents, and am awestruck—every time—completely impressed and humbled. And thankful.

And though Michael and I have the challenge of a severely disabled child, compared to the way my parents labored with a family of eight, I'd say we got it easy.

1 comment:

  1. Nice description of growing up Bellevue style in the 60's and 70's! Great pics too.

    My Boeing Dad had the same giant veggie garden plus bees hives, chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, plus wild animals. I sometimes wonder if they knew each other at Boeing.