How many children do you have? Too many to count?

Grandpa Fred...that's Fred Ray to you, I suppose...mid-1930s, at work in the creamery making ice cream. Note tie. No casual workplace, no siree. He was the first, and one of only two, of his many many siblings to leave Oklahoma. He came to California looking for work.

Grandpa Fred–who grew up in Okemah, Oklahoma–was one of fourteen to sixteen kids. Depending on how you count.

Love that line, it’s a guaranteed laugh.

So many kids you don’t know how to count them?

Yes. It’s true.

Grandpa’s mother was Nellie. Things were more casual back then of course. Grandpa was born at home on the farm at home. Even now there’s not a single traffic signal in all of Okfusgee County. Grandpa never even knew his birthday for sure. November 5th or  6th 1902. (After my sister was born on November 5th, he decided, for sure his birthday was really November 5th.) If they were lucky, he said, they’d get an orange for Christmas.

Grandpa had an older sister and a brother. His mother died in childbirth. (So did the baby. Do we count that child?) Grandpa’s father Rufus Ray then married Nellie’s sister Maude. They had scads more children.

Two sets of twins: Essie and Bessie and Earl and Burl. Lots more charming southern names like Iva Mae and Margie. Woody. These aren’t just names to me but wonderful real people, mostly gone now. Iva Mae made fabulous fried apricot pies and said we should only eat the heart of the watermelon, rest went to the pigs.

Margie could, and did, whip up dinner for 35 without breaking a sweat, going out to tend the greyhound puppies before she stirred up a sheet cake.

Woody had more wrinkles than ten loads of laundry, and a powerful addiction to smoking, but he was such a gentle story teller I’d sit and listen to him all afternoon if I could. As I girl I was fascinated by how his arm didn’t work right. You got hurt in a war? His cowboy hat wasn’t a prop, but really kept the sun out of his eyes.

One of the oldest boys, George, was mentally disabled. From a certain point he lived in an institution. Such things weren’t discussed back then. Or at least in our family they weren’t. And George was definitely left out of the (official) count of 14. When Grandpa visited Oklahoma he always went to see George, but some of the younger brothers and sisters didn’t even know George existed.

Been on my mind recently following a family funeral last week.

Cousin Martha and I, who hadn’t seen each other in decades, recognized each other right off. She says I look like my grandmother. She looks like her mother. We were going over family stories, and sitting on my porch over coffee, right there out of her jacket pocket Martha pulled ANOTHER child from the same generation. A little boy, who was run over and killed by a wagon.

So I guess Grandpa was one of fourteen to Seventeen children.

Depending on how you count.

My father, Charlie Ray, on left, visiting Oklahoma cousins in 1940. The photographer, in shadow, is his mother.

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2 Responses to How many children do you have? Too many to count?

  1. rich says:

    Thanks for the note, great to read as Wayne’s grandson…(youngest of the 16)

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