It sounds like you’re used to rhyming those off — there was no hesitation at all. And I don’t mean to be indelicate, but are your parents still living?
They’re both on the farm yet — they do not want to leave the farm.
Well, then, I shouldn’t be talking to you — I should be talking to your mother. Because my goodness! I was wondering if maybe there were some foster kids involved, maybe some adopted children, but that’s not the case.
We’re full-blood brothers and sisters and one set of twins — sisters, born in — I should know that — 1961.
And what’s the eldest in your family and what’s the youngest?
The oldest was born in 1950, which makes her 64 this year in April, and the youngest was born in 1974. There were 17 in a row — one every year — when you consider the twins made up for two years — and then a six-year lull and the youngest one came along.
And you are …?
Number eight. I was born in ’58. And it was a great place, number eight, because the trail was blazed ahead of me, and you could get lost in the shuffle.
Is everybody’s reaction to hearing you’re one of 18 siblings like mine, which was, ‘That’s amazing!’
Yeah. I never really realized how different it is for other people, because growing up in a family that size, you don’t know. It’s just normal. So when you tell someone and they have quite a reaction, I always get a kick out of it.
Now I’m trying to remember what you said a couple of weeks ago at the party where we first met — there were 11 boys and seven girls?
Eleven boys and seven girls — that’s right.
I know that families of around a dozen weren’t considered unusual in the 1800s — my maternal grandfather was one of nine children — but in essentially the modern era, that’s number of kids seems incredible to me! Your folks must have loved each other a lot.
Yeah. There was a lot of love there and I’ve often thought about ‘Why so many of us?’ after I left, because it was just so natural while we were there. They were very, very family oriented and chose to have a family that size.
Wow. I can’t imagine the magnitude of the household, or the expense. My goodness!
The expense was probably something that would have been very difficult, but I do know that when I look back, and know what we produced on the farm ourselves — the vegetables, the fruit — we had fruit trees — our own livestock, and I guess we covered a lot of it just by being self-sustaining as well.
The farming would certainly help. And you had a built in labour force.
Oh yeah! Dad’s motto was his hardest job was keeping us all busy.
Were there special relationships with certain siblings? I mean, obviously you love them all, but was there a brother or sister you were most close? Or did you all just get along famously?
Well, it’s funny you say that, because we all have different personalities, of course. So things that stick out in my mind were maybe some of my siblings who never talked to each other as kids — I can never remember them saying a word to each other as children — but now that we’re older, everyone gets along fabulously. And it’s always intrigued me how that changed.
As far as favourites, I did have some of my older siblings who looked out for me I thought a little bit more than some of the other ones, and you do notice those things. But overall, we all just tried to get along.
Now when you say tried to get along, there probably was the odd scuffle from time to time, right?
Oh yes! One that sticks out in my mind was a little scuffle with an older sister, and I decided, ‘That’s it — I’m leaving home.’
I was about six years old, I told Dad I was leaving home, and of course it’s the middle of winter, we’re on a farm, so he said, ‘Well, you better take something with you.’ So he gave me a pillow case and he put a banana and a couple of Dad’s Cookies in it. He said, ‘You’ll need that for your trip, wherever you’re going.’
So I remember going out, and it was so cold, I just went around the corner of the trees, and thought, ‘I wonder how long I can take this before I’ve gotta go back in?’
So I go back in feeling humiliated and just defeated. And they made a circle around me, the rest of the family, and they sang ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ and it all ended up just fine! I’ll never forget that because it was amazing.
Family events, now, over the years. I’m thinking Christmas dinners and gatherings — are there times when the whole clan does get together or are you spread out all over the place?
We get together twice a year — once on the August long weekend because it’s Mom’s and Dad’s birthdays, so we go out to the farm and get together there. They’ll both be 86 this August.
And then the second day is Boxing Day and we rent a church basement back in Wilkie. The afternoon starts out at the rink, and we’re all sports-minded, so we have hockey games. And then after the hockey games we have a banquet or supper and then we have games or just socializing until everyone’s ready to go home!
It must be a riot!
Oh, it is! No one wants to miss it because it’s very special.
And now, of course, there’ll be all kinds of extended family.
How many kids do you have yourself?
Two boys. One is 25 and one is 17.
How many nieces and nephews do you have?
So altogether 69 grandchildren in the family.
Yes. And the way we keep track is we have a monthly newsletter, and each year, a different person takes care of it. We all send our info, our monthly news, into one central location, they put it together, and it gets emailed out to everyone. Otherwise we can’t keep track of what the nieces and nephews are up to. Because they’re having children of their own. So we look so forward every month to reading that monthly newsletter — it keeps us connected.
And are people spread out across the country?
Yes. Mostly in Saskatchewan. I’m the only one east of Saskatchewan. Most of them are in Saskatchewan, or Alberta and B.C.
It’s really impressive that you’ve managed to — that all of you have wanted to — keep this connection going.
Yes. And — how do I put this? — it’s really paid dividends staying close over the years. When a sibling or niece or nephew has had either health issues or a shop burns down or whatever, we, as a family, pull together to make sure that that family member is going to be fine. And we do whatever it takes. And everyone knows that they have the backing of the rest of the family.
You said when you were kids, everybody was into sports. So hockey, baseball, that kind of stuff?
We would play hockey all year on a dugout out behind the barn. And when it got warm out in the spring, and everything was wet and mushy, we’d go up in the hay loft and play ball hockey until the ground was dry enough and then the ball gloves came out. And we played ball right up until freeze-up and then we’d start over with hockey again.
And you had exactly enough kids for two baseball teams.
Yes, we had enough for two teams. So Sundays, we’d get home from church and eat as fast as we could, go out to the ball diamond or the rink and pick two teams and play until chores needed to be done.
You probably balanced teams between the older and younger ones, and the talented ones and the ones who probably weren’t as skilled.
That’s right — we picked it so it would be fun for both teams.
Did your folks sort of insist on that, or did you decide that amongst yourselves?
They didn’t really push us — we just decided amongst ourselves, because of course we didn’t have TV in the earlier years, so the older ones started out in sports and the older ones kind of helped dictate what us younger ones were going to do. But we loved it! Sports was just a way of life out on the farm.
Did you have lots of hand-me-downs.
Yes. There were hand-me-downs, and that always kind of was a sore spot for me. And that would sometimes cause the squabbles, if you tried to take some older sibling’s clothes because they maybe were a little newer. But we managed. I know what Mom and Dad went through to keep us fed and clothed, so we didn’t complain to them — that’s just the way it was.
They must have worked around the clock, your folks.
Yeah. I always remember Mom being the first up, and Dad, and then always the last to go to bed at night.
Speaking of beds, what were the sleeping arrangements? I’m betting you didn’t have an 19-bedroom home on the farm.
We lived in a 800-square-foot two-storey house up until 1974 — that’s when the we built the new house.
Nineteen of us lived in the old house, but since Gary was born in 1974, he never got to have that experience.
We never felt crowded. I remember it as cozy and warm in the winter, and we were only in it to sleep and eat in the summer.
The upstairs consisted of two bedrooms. Eight boys were in one room that had three double beds and one bunk bed. It was also the scene of some of the most epic pillow fights imaginable!
The four youngest sisters slept in the other upstairs bedroom. The downstairs had three bedrooms — the two oldest boys in one, the three oldest sisters in another and, of course, mom and dad in what we thought was a huge bedroom of 120 square feet.
Wow! As for life on the farm, did you have specific chores that you were responsible for, or did you kind of rotate through a bunch of them?
As I mentioned earlier, Dad liked to keep us busy, so we each had our own individual milk cow, which meant that you had to get up early in the morning and milk that cow before the bus picked you up at 8:30. So you’d usually be up by seven, get your chores done, and everyone had to help out. Everyone had a cow. And if someone was sick with the flu or something, we made sure that someone would look after their chores. So we helped each other out. And Dad made sure we kept busy — and out of mischief.
Family meals back in those days — those must have been something. Twenty people gathered around a table?
Yeah. Family meals were always kind of special because that was probably the one time when all 18 siblings could get together at the same spot for the day, other than sports. We had other places to go and things to do. And I always remember thinking how fast we were for eaters, because if you wanted seconds, you had to eat fast! So for many years after leaving home, my wife, Sherry, would always say, ‘I wish you would slow down,’ when we were at a restaurant or something. And I said, ‘I’ll try.’ But it’s just built into you that you ate fast and you might get seconds if you were done in time.
You said you didn’t know being part of such a large family was a unique experience at the time, but I sense that, looking back, it’s with really fond memories.
Yes. I really feel we were blessed, because growing up in a family that size has opened my eyes to so many things after leaving home when it comes to respect and treating each other considerately. Whether it’s in the office or whatever circumstance life brings at you, we really learned how to deal with it. Being part of such a big family — it’s really helped.