I've worked at the birth center for about a year and a half now, and although most women are thrilled with their birth experience, nearly every woman I've met immediately after delivery swears she is never going to do that again. And then, of course, she is back a year or two later again in the throws of labor. Post-delivery, there are two pieces of Jill-trivia that I like to tell women at the center: 1) My husband weighed 12 (yes, twelve) pounds when he was born, and 2) My maternal grandmother is one of 16 (yes, sixteen) children, all single births. This makes my great-grandmother some sort of fertility-goddess made flesh. No wonder I grew up to be a midwife. Birth was in my blood.
Although my immediate family is pretty small, as an adult I'm touched by the unique experience of growing up with such a large extended family. There are literally hundreds of us on this earth because of the union of John and Jennie Hall at the turn of the century, and I have many cousins I've yet to meet. Every summer, for as long as I can remember, the Sixteen (or what's left of them) meet for a week at a WV state park, their children and grandchildren (and sometimes great-grandchildren) in tow.
My memories of childhood are punctuated with weeks spent at "Camp": my flamboyant aunts and uncles playing practical jokes on each other and the kids; white-elephant sales; dimly-lit late night treks through the forest, "haunted" by my older cousins; square dancing with my uncle Louie - a champion caller who taught me to Texas Two-Step to "Amarillo by Morning". I have memories of my Aunt Oleta and her daughter Naomi, both bosomy women who would miraculously pull two or three metallic tubes of lipstick out of their ample brassieres, my uncle Blaine and his foul-talking parrot Zeke, and most of all - hours and hours of my great-aunts lounging in chairs under shade trees, shelling pole-beans, laughing until one of them had to get up to pee.
Oh, and the food. The food. What an singular pleasure it was to spend a week with my relatives, briefly pulled together from the four corners of the world, and share the foods that linked us all as a family. My grandmother, an unrivaled home-cook, makes hot rolls worth fighting over. My Aunt Norma owned a Dairy Bar (like a Dairy Queen) and would bring her chili con carne, Aunt Dee (from NY - she married in) made 6" high cheesecakes, and Aunt Jessie, who married Italian Louie, simmered vat upon vat on spaghetti sauce. We pot-lucked al fresco, sometimes nearly 200 of us, and as a child it seemed as if the banquet tables went on forever.
My favorite Camp tradition was watching my aunts and uncles make huge kettles of applebutter. It was a colonial scene: a copper pot large enough to boil a small child, a wood fire, and a large paddle to stir the mellow, spicy mixture. In the hot June days, a group would form around the kettle, everyone taking turns with the paddle. A batch took all day to create. The applebutter was poured into Ball jars, sealed, and then distributed to the family.
I haven't been to camp in a long time...the tradition carries on, even though many of my dear aunts and uncles have passed away and the cousins I looked forward to seeing all year are grown with families of their own. Three weeks ago my grandparents came to visit and brought me a jar of 'Camp' applebutter. Eating it is a little like a sacred ritual for me. I can taste in it the summers in the woods, the laughter of my aunts, the soul of my family. I love to share it with Andrew, knowing that with every bite, he's more a part of the generations before him.
So, here's to the 16: Lela, Lola, Oleta, Mary, Margaret, Leslie, Ivan, Blaine, John, Norma, Jessie, Virginia, Kathleen, Charles, William, and Helen.