More from the deYong Museum of Cardboard Boxes and Plastic Crates:
Only one conclusion can be drawn from this deYong family photo: My grandparents, George and Bessie, would have been the richest farmers in Montana if only their fields had been half as fertile as their loins. They had twelve children, eleven of whom survived to adulthood.
Check out my grandmother on the far left. She was born in 1877 and my dad (fourth kid from the left) was born in 1911. He looks like he’s about eight or nine in this photo, so she was probably only about 43 years old when this photo was taken. But look at her hair. It had already turned pure white. I imagine giving birth to twelve kids will do that to you.
The Depression scattered the Montana deYong clan all across the country. I cannot even name all my aunts and uncles and certainly don’t recognize them based on this photo. I’m not even sure I ever met all of them. And I know for sure that I have cousins out there I’ve never met.
One uncle became a gravedigger in Alberta, Canada and eventually a Canadian citizen. Another uncle ended up as a vacuum cleaner repairman in one of Chicago’s Indiana suburbs. My uncle Hank bought a farm near the family farm and his son still farms it to this day. Another uncle took over the family farm and it is still in the family, too, owned by my second cousin. My youngest uncle followed my dad to California and they milked cows together until he went off on his own.
My aunts are a different story: I don’t think I met my aunts Mable and Bertha more than a couple times, so I don’t know much about them. My aunt Gertrude moved to Southern California, got married, and gave birth to my cousin but died before I was born. My aunt Sue was a school teacher in Washington. I guess that I met her four or five times in my life, and it was always a fun occasion because she was the sort who made everyone laugh.
You might think that twelve kids in one family is pretty crazy, but let me make it a little crazier. My grandmother’s sister also moved to Kalispell, got married, and also had twelve kids. They must have been rationing names in Montana in the early 1900s because the two sisters gave a lot of their kids the same first names (two Petes, two Hanks, two Gertrudes, two Anns, two Susies, two Georges). So that’s 24 brothers and sisters and first cousins, many of them sharing first names, all in a town of just 8,786. Yes, that’s a very precise number but it’s official because I looked up the United States Census to verify the population of Kalispell in 1910.
That’s me standing in front of the old one bedroom farmhouse in which my grandparents raised twelve kids, the same house that’s in the sepia tone photo at the top of this story. I think it has been demolished now, but it was still standing as of a couple years ago.
To repeat: It was a one bedroom house. I can understand how my grandparents handled the first two or three or maybe even four kids in the house. But how do you even make half a dozen more babies when you already have half a dozen running around the house? Where do you find time? Where do you find the energy? Where do you find a place where inquisitive toddlers don’t barge in unexpectedly asking, “Whatca doin’, daddy? Whatcha doing, mommy?”
Pre-TV or social media and long winter nights.