What It's Like Growing Up in a Large Family
I grew up in the South in the 1950s where it was not unusual for most families to be large ones. My mother had ten children that consisted of eight girls and two boys. The first seven children are girls, and my mother really wanted a boy. The eighth child was a boy. Then she had another girl. The youngest child was a boy.
None of the children were born in a hospital. All ten children were born at home. Every time we saw the midwife walking up the path with her black bag, we thought a baby was in the bag.
So, what was it like growing up in a large family? First of all, there was always someone to play with. Secondly, there was always someone to argue and fight with. Also, there was always someone to blame for breaking the vase or doing other things that had to be accounted for. However, there were so many other things that were common in large families during that time especially if the family was poor like mine was.
I remember living in three different houses as a child. The first house was a big one after my mother was divorced from my father. At the time my mother and the first four children lived in a big house with my grandmother and grandfather. The country house was in a neighborhood with other children our age. All the neighborhood children played together and we stayed at the neighbor's house almost as much as we stayed at all own.
When my mother married the second time, the other six children were born. By that time we had moved to an extremely small house of our own, but we managed. Our wallpaper was actually strips of newspapers that were pasted on the wall with homemade paste my mother made out of flour and water. When some of the newspaper crumbled and fell off the wall, my mother just patched it up with new strips.
Our third residence was a small four-room house that was owned by my stepfather's lumber company. To help make ends meet, the three older children worked on a farm for one of our neighbors. We chopped peanuts in the summer and picked cotton in the fall. When my stepfather was killed in 1959, we had to move. Therefore, my mother saved up enough money to get a contractor to build a four-room house made out of cinder blocks. It was a basic house with no amenities such as a bathroom and running water. We had an outhouse and a pump. We also had electricity but no telephone until much later.
There were only two bedrooms for all of us. I slept in a bed with two of my sisters. I was in the front, a smaller sister was in the middle and one sister was in the back. We were covered with quilts at night that were so heavy that we could barely move in the bed. My mother made quilts out of old coats and other clothes that we no longer wore.
My oldest sister had a roll away cart in the same room near the door that led to the kitchen. She had to make it up every night and put it away every morning. Three other sisters also slept in another bed in the room. Another sister insists she slept in a crib in my mother's room until she was a teenager.
Today when older children leave home to go to college, a younger child gets the child's room. After my siblings graduated from high school and left home, we didn't get a room. We were blessed to get more space in a bed.
We had designated days to eat certain foods. For instance, we ate fish on Friday especially when we went fishing to catch them. We ate chicken only on Sundays. My mother would go to the yard and select a chicken. She would put the chicken on the chopping block and cut its head off with an ax. The chicken would flutter around the yard for a few minutes without its head.
The chicken was put in boiling water to loosen the feathers so we could pluck them. Then it was cut up in enough pieces for the eleven of us to get a designated piece to eat. Four members of the family were able to eat the breast it was cut into four pieces.
We ate a lot of navy beans, butter beans, cabbage, and collard greens because we could get them from the garden. In fact, most of the time just a big helping of vegetables would be our entire meal.
We never went hungry even though there were a lot of mouths to feed. We knew how to stretch food. We ate a lot of syrup and molasses with biscuits. A lot of times we ate melted cheese mixed with flour for breakfast. It was one of my favorite breakfast foods.
During the summer months, we had to wash Mason jars squeaky clean so we could can peaches, tomatoes, and other foods for the winter. We would find out during the later if we hadn't washed the jars clean enough because the contents would spoil and had to be discarded.
Also during the summer months, we went into the woods to pick blackberries and huckleberries. Whenever we ate watermelon, the rinds were saved and made into pickles.
Each child had designated chores to do. I have a scar on my right foot today from cutting it when I was chopping wood for the heater and the stove. I was driven miles away to the doctor and got three stitches to close the gap.
Most of the housework was done on Saturdays. We washed our clothes on a scrub board until we got a washer with a wringer. We never had a dryer, but we put our clothes on a clothesline in the yard. During the cold months, our clothes would freeze on the line. We were responsible for ironing our own clothes by heating flat irons on the stove
We rotated scrubbing the floor and doing other chores, including making biscuits from scratch. The person who took the last dipper full of water from the pail was the one who had to go outside to get more water from a pump.
Since most of us the girls were just one or two years apart in age and almost the same size, we were able to wear each other's clothes whether we had permission to do so or not.
We wore black and white shoes with white bobby socks. With that many pairs of socks, it was on a first-come-first-served basis depending on who rushed to the clothesline to claim a pair of white socks.
We played a lot of hopscotch, jumping rope and shooting marbles. Often the little ones were not allowed to play especially when the neighborhood children were around.
There was only one bicycle that everyone had to share. We made our own entertainment by sitting on the front porch and watched cars go by. We would guess what color the next car would be.
We could watch our black and white television at night and on the weekend provided all chores had been completed. Before we had a television, we would listen to stories on the radio.
No Privacy and Other Inconveniences
Needless to say, there was no privacy growing up in a four-room house without a bathroom. Somehow we manage with an outhouse.
When we got our first telephone, it was a party line. That meant that several families in the neighborhood could hear the phone every time it rang. We were required to answer the phone only on our designated ring. Our family's designated ring was the fourth one.
There was no privacy because other neighbors could pick up the phone and listen in to other people's conversations. When people needed to make an emergency phone call, they had to wait until a neighbor got off the phone for it to be used.
There were some challenging times growing up in a large poor family. There were also some good memories. One such memory was waking up on Christmas morning getting the same thing we had gotten the year before and the year before that.
My mother had saved enough used lunch bags for our Christmas goodies. The bags were greasy and still smelled of bologna and cheese, but they were filled with one apple, one orange, a couple of nuts and a handful of hard Christmas candy.
Another pleasant memory is when my mother paid a neighbor to take her grocery shopping on Saturday mornings. No matter how scarce money was, she always brought us some candy. Sometimes there would be Mary Janes, Squirrel Nuts, or Kits. We felt really blessed when she brought us a Sugar Daddy because that lasted a long time.
Today, some of the siblings still chat on the telephone several times a week and make it a special effort to call one another on birthdays and holidays. Those who like to travel often go on trips together.
Those who grew up in a large family can relate to some of the things mentioned in this article. Those who grew up in a small family missed all of those experiences.
People who grew up in a large family will always have a friend, a confidante, and someone to share memories with and laugh about how things used to be. Someone else will have to write an article about growing up in a small family because I don't know anything about that.