My mother remembers the exact moment she decided to have a small family. She's told the story frequently. One day in second grade she came home to search for cardboard in the trash can. She retrieved a piece, then traced the bottom of her shoe and cut out the form to place inside of it. There were two holes along the bottom of her shoe now. Her socks were black in those places. She decided at that moment that she would have one, maybe two children. She would not have seventeen, as her parents had. Her children would have new shoes.
Life with sixteen siblings is unimaginable to me. My mother kept her promise. There are two of us who call her mother. Sixteen siblings is also sixteen good-byes, especially when you are one of the middle children in the family.
Goodbye #1: Youngest brother Robert was the epitome of life and joy. Always good-natured. Always joking. Always smiling. Then he served in Vietnam and returned a changed man. Still smiling, but usually after a few six-packs. He died at 34 from cirrhosis of the liver.
Goodbye #2: Youngest sister Jenny was the "black sheep" of the family. Definitely marched to her own drummer. Faded in and out of the family, and lived life according to her own rules. Passed away far from her children - heart disease.
And today she's preparing for…
Goodbye #3: Oldest sister Rita. Had nine children of her own. Worked the farm along with her husband until his recent passing just two years ago. Never complains. Makes breakfast from scratch each and every morning. Spending time with her children in the hospital as she struggles with pneumonia. My mother's mentor.
My mother remembers the exact moment she decided to have a small family. My mother remembers the joyous moments with her siblings. Each one of them. I doubt she would trade one of those stories for any new pair of shoes.