Youngest Kid Blues
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
My dad was one of thirteen children in his family. My mom was one of five, I was one of six, and I had four children myself. Big families are endlessly fascinating to me. The ways that siblings relate to each other – and to the world – is often based on pecking order. Or on how many are boys and how many are girls, and whether the oldest child is male or female. Certain siblings tend to pal up, and others never get along.
Big families were the norm back in the 1870’s. Especially in rural areas, where additional mouths to feed could also mean additional hands to help. Things like coats and Sunday dresses got handed down, and older children had to take on more responsibilities. No matter where you were in the lineup, there were pluses and minuses. I was an older sister and I sure did a lot of babysitting for my siblings. On the plus side, by the time I became a Mom myself, I had some skills. On the negative side, some of my siblings were a real pain to babysit!!
It’s not always easy being the baby of the family either. And that’s what inspired my story The Prince of Painter’s Creek, 1879. Here’s an excerpt.
I’M GOOD WITH NUMBERS. ALWAYS HAVE BEEN. Ma says I was born counting. Well, when you’re the youngest son in a family of twelve, that’s how it is. You start counting to see if there’s going to be enough potatoes or pancakes, or slices of apple pie, and most of the time you can figure there’s not. So, I ended up good with numbers. I can total a column of figures and be right every time. I can look at an inventory and see the mistakes, figure out the profit margin on a wagonload of goods, and understand the odds of drawing an inside straight. I know when things don’t add up.
My youngest son Hubie lives right next door, and every morning I get a little ray of sunshine in the form of my youngest granddaughter, eight-year-old Gaynelle, when she brings me my breakfast. I suppose an old coot like myself could manage to fry a couple of eggs, but why go to the trouble? Especially when I can get a better breakfast by having my daughter-in-law cook it, and have some company to boot? Gaynelle’s a noticing little thing, and right away that morning, she told me a big bird had left droppings in the yard. “Biggest I ever seen, PawPaw. Like maybe a buzzard did it. Or a coupla buzzards. Or a whole flock.” I looked out to see and, sure enough, a big pile of spatterings covered the bushes between my yard and Hubie’s. It wasn’t bird crap, though. It was puke. Foamy beer puke. A lot of it.
Well, I told her not to worry, and later I threw a couple buckets of water over it and washed it away. Her older brother Loy is running around with a bad crowd these days and if things don’t pick up, I’ll have to take a hand in it. Hubie’s too mild with the boy, and that just don’t work with a boy as restless as Loy.
These are the times when I miss my Thelma. Well, tarnation, I miss her all the time, but especially when it comes to problems with people. She understood folks, like I understand numbers. She’s the one who said we should get Hubie to build a house right next door to us. “We’re not getting any younger,” she said. “One day we’ll want one of them living nearby. I think Hubie’s the one.” So, we did, and I never regretted it. Their house is nicer’n ours. Plenty big, nice clapboard on the outside, wide front porch. Ours is still just an old log house, but it’s good enough for me. Most of their kids are grown and off on their own now, ’cept for little Gaynelle who came along when they thought they was all through. And eighteen-year-old Loy, who drives the wagon from here to Bennetton during the day and hangs out with his rowdy friends at night.
By the way, this photo is of my dad and most of his brothers (not all - the oldest is missing, plus there were six sisters!). Dad's in uniform, on the right.