I can say something about myself that most people cannot say:  I have five brothers, and I have five sisters. My mother had 11 babies, and I was baby number 9. 

When people learn I have so many brothers and sisters, they often ask if we are still close to each other, and thankfully we are.

In recent years we have found keeping in contact with our cousins and extended family has become even more important to us. I love the fact that there are 44 people in this world who I can count as a first cousin.

I have been asked how many second and third cousins we have, and I don’t have the answer. Coming up with the number may have to be a winter project for someone in the family.  

My mother was in her 80s when she went on a weekend retreat, and her family members were asked to write a meaningful letter to her.

Of course, she had saved the letters. My sisters and I had written short and sweet notes to her. We shared our appreciation for how she had raised us and recognized some of the ways she taught and nurtured us.

Her sons did a much better job letting her know their true feelings.

My brother Lee told her he had no idea how privileged we were while we were growing up. It was later in life when he realized how great it was to be a part of a large family and how very fortunate he felt to be one of eleven children.

He told her the perfect family is not 2 kids and a mom and a dad. The perfect family is a mom and a dad and more kids than the house can hold. Its in-laws, grandkids, and the next generation. Its Christmas at Mom and Dads house. Its family reunions and birthday parties. It means you stay in touch with each other through emails and phone calls.

He wrote the perfect family is basically what Mom and Dad had created. He ended by telling her that she and Dad were his heroes.

I imagine his letter had brought tears to her eyes.

As I was sorting through a box of papers at my parents’ house, I found a letter Mom had written to her eight children who were at home in Edgerton while she was a patient at Hicksville hospital, just ten miles south of her home.

I was born on December 16, and she wrote this letter on December 17:

Dear Kids,

Will you ever love this live doll baby that I have with me over here?

I got to hold her for the first time this morning about 6 o’clock. I was still kind of sleepy so didn’t fuss with her much. But when I got her at 10 o’clock, I really looked her over –

She has a nice little round head like Lee.

A smile like Darrell’s

A nose like Donnie’s.

Eyes like Carolyn.

Lips like Elaine’s.

Cute little ears like Jayne’s.

Dimples like Eddie’s.

She is soft and smooth like Marcia.

Short and fat like Grandma.

Not much hair like Grandpa.

Cries like her mom – and put her together, she’s a big “Doll” like her Dad.

I think I’ll put a big ribbon on her and put her under the Christmas tree.

Love, Mom 

I read the letter a few times before reading it aloud to my siblings who were present when I found it.

We decided I have something no one else has. I have a letter from my mother – penned the day after I was born. The words were meant for my four older brothers and my four older sisters, and it was about me.

Who else, in the history of the world, has a letter like that?

My mom has shown to us, time and again, the value of a hand-written note. Just for the record, my mom told me she really did take me home and put me under the Christmas tree.

Babies number 6, 7, and 8 were boys – namely Don, Darrell, and Lee. I’m sure the family was ready for a change of pace when they started taking care of a girl again.

As the sorting of boxes continued at my parents’ home, we came upon Jeanette’s baby scrapbook, and wouldn’t you know, in the pages of her scrapbook is a letter from Mom.

This note was written to her nine children who were at home while she was in the hospital with Jeanette, her 10th baby.   

Dear Kids,

We have another little fat dolly over here. I got to hold her for the first time about 10 o’clock. Dr. Boerger came in soon after. He said she looks like she belongs to the family.

I looked her over from head to toe. She had to sneeze, she burped, she had the hic-cups, she tried to suck her fist and also tried to scratch her face with her fingernails already. I believe she is well put together and every part is working fine. God has been good to us.

Did you girls realize we have another dish washer? What does Marlene think? What are you going to name her? How about Jean Ellen and call her Jeanie. But you decide.

Love, Mom 

And on the back side of the letter, she wrote…

Don’t change the beds this week-end. We’ll do it when I get home.

Don’t forget to get the bassinet home from Grandmas and clean it up – o.k.

Marcia try to do all the ironing you can this Saturday and Jayne and other girls can clean up house.

All help each other (no fighting) please.

Boys play together nice so no one gets hurt.

See you, Love Mom

The baby cards in Jeanette’s scrapbook reveal my mom had an injury to her arm when Jeanette was born. Her friend Bertha sent a card with this note to her:

“I’m out of baby cards but thot this would do. So glad you have your girl. Take good care of her now. Maybe your lame arm was sent to you so you would have time to rest and nurse your little one. She’s just as sweet and loving as all the rest isn’t she. I know I’ll not be able to get down to see you so I’ll do next best.

Well Ruth don’t spoil this one now. I’ll bet they all want to hold her anyway. What does Marlene think about it? Is she jealous?

Must run and get back to duty. Bertha R. Herman”

The problem with finding these notes in which the writer asks a question: I end up wondering what the answer would have been.

A second card was from Jim and Beth Herman. Beth wrote a note on the back side of the card:

“Dear Ruth, Now really? Couldn’t you have had the baby without cracking your arm, too? I know a person tries to save money when they have a large family but you are really efficient – combining 2 hospital stays in one.

I do hope you got along with all your problems. Give your gal a hug for us and we’ll be thinking of you in our prayers. Beth.”

Maybe someone will fill us in on what happened to Mom’s arm at the time of Jeanette’s birth. One thing we do know is Mom and Dad had many friends and family who remembered them with a baby card every time another little one was born into the family.

Mom had put the hospital bill and payment receipt in Jeanette’s scrapbook.  The bill was $126.00, and the insurance policy through the Edgerton Hardware paid $118.00. That means Jeanette cost my mom and dad $8.00.

As all of us know, there are some things in life that are truly priceless, and Mom and Dad already knew when life gives you babies, you make a family.

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