Families go on forever
After reading several books dealing with life at the turn of the 20th Century, in both fiction and factual accounts, I decided that there were too many babies.
In the big cities of the Eastern seaboard there were so many that they were shipped out west by the trainload, which came to be known as The Orphan Trains.
Several children’s books dealt with large families and the attitude of the times, like Little Men, Girl of the Limberlost, and others.
My own antecedents produced large numbers of offspring on both sides. On the paternal side there were seven children from two wives. The youngest, my Dad being born in 1900.
On the maternal side my poor grandmother bore 11 children two of whom died in childhood.
What did it mean for each child to be born as part of a six or twelve pack?
Older ones raised the younger ones, as was so blithely mentioned in Girl of the Limberlost.
In my Dad’s case, he was kind of pampered by his older sister Mary, and never mentioned his mother as being the prime care giver at all. In fact I never heard any family stories from him in over 18 years. Mostly they were plagiarized stories from John O’Hara’s books about Pottsville, Pa.
When there are three kids to a bed, there is no privacy. It is smelly, crowded and guests usually got the best part of the Sunday chicken, according to my Mom, who invariably got only the neck bones.
Fiction shows that some women daydreamed about having ten children, claiming it would be easier as the brood grew, counting on the older ones to care for the babies, while Mommy went ahead with the next little frog.
In reality, since my Mom was grown and gone by the time the 11th child appeared, they did not know each other too well. My poor grandmother Mary was left on the farm to raise the brood while her husband was off traveling on his sales job. Every time he came home there she was, pregnant again.
I firmly believe that she wore herself out and died early of heart disease.
There was no surcease from this grind of pregnancy, diapers, farm work, and early exhaustion.
The need for children to work the farms and fill the sweatshops in the cities spurred family growth, and men worked the laws to keep it that way. They passed laws to make it illegal to disseminate information about women’s bodies, and birth control.
This tendency to treat women as chattel and having to be controlled has not let up to this day.
The other example of control over women was that put forth by the recent show Downton Abbey.
There, the woman with no husband was treated with pity, and expected to live as a spinster with restricted possibilities for employment or social life.
A few escaped this life of immurement as Mary Kingsley did when she organized a trip to West Africa in 1887.
This was only accomplished because she was un- married, and had spent her whole life tending to her ailing ancient parents, and when they were both safely dead and she had an inheritance, she blew town!
No matter what a woman did, she was expected to not know her own mind, never taking control of her reproductive rights, and followed meekly after the dictates made by men.
The title of this essay was Families go on forever, but in my case, there were two abrupt endings of the family name.
Since my Mother had only two brothers who never married and produced a family, the Nickerson line is now over on that end of the tribe. I understand that other descendants of the Mayflower Nickerson’s have the largest family reunion in the country.
On my Dad’s side, there is no Stemler/Scamarocious, as both my older and younger brothers failed to produce viable offspring. The younger one died at 15 and my older brother Lee’s son Charley never married before he died of cancer in his twenties.
I am sure there are male cousins to carry on the name, but I never knew them.
The only way that families really go on forever is through the women’s DNA, but since the name of a woman does not count too much in certain countries, it is just the same as being brought to extinction.