Monday, August 2, 2010

37 children, 1 mum

I started my weekend watching Nanook of the North and being amazed by how happy Nanook is in every image, living his stripped-to-essentials life. This is a man whose sole focus is providing for his family, and since he does that constantly and with great success, what's not to be happy about? Bonus: the amazing clowns-in-a-car scene in which he unpacks his large family from the hole in his kayak after pulling up to shore.

Later I visited a museum that included a very lived-in house, as explained by this plaque outside:

It's a different kind of family provision, one that I think had to be at least as exhausting as Nanook's lifestyle. You have to click on the image to get the full impact.

Now admittedly, out of the 37 children in question our Rhoda only had 18, but she still had more than either of her predecessors from her two husbands.

She didn't last long between her two marriages, judging by the less-than-23-months between the last baby from dad #1 and the first from dad #2, and I'm guessing the dads didn't last long either - even with combined households, it had to be a lot easier to put two people in charge of a pioneer farm.

Just as Nanook tirelessly hunted for seals and walruses and fish to feed his family, Rhoda produced children. Even if she started at 18, she must have been having babies till she was 45. By which time she was probably also a grandmother, don't you think? Maybe a few times over, with the contribution of the stepchildren.

I wonder whether she had time to enjoy them, beyond a few quiet moments in the night settling a hungry infant. Did she love her husbands when she married them, or did she just come to love them later, or not at all? How was it to marry men who'd lost wives before her? Did her stepchildren welcome her? Did she welcome them? and had she known them perhaps, from the time they were born?

Each question suggests so many variables - so many stories in one simple plaque.


TexNan said...

OMG! Oh. My. Gosh. I get tired just looking at the list.

Isn't it interesting that the plaque doesn't give Rhoda's birth year? As you said, she must have had babies well into menopause, but some women do even today. Still...eighteen?


Anonymous said...

OK: close reading shows, that a) she was born in 1775, so Mary, you were a a year out on your guesstimates, and b) she was just a couple of years older than her oldest stepchild, and c) just a couple of years younger than her second predecessor (who had, incidentally, ten children in a twenty year span from the age of 17 until she died - most likely in childbirth, along with the last baby). I suspect both the husbands lost their first wives peri-partum, in fact. And that second husband: did you notice he lived into his nineties?