Thirteen of Bernadette’s children survived past the age of four. Then, it was common to have a large family, yet uncommon to hide tiny sons and daughters in pickle barrels when the social workers came. If it was a crime to have a big family and to be poor, then Bernadette was a criminal.
Instead of doing hard time for bringing thirteen babies into a life of poverty, she died of cervical cancer when the youngest was two.
Before her death, the babies who survived despite unmet needs and wants grew sturdy bodies, intelligent, witty minds and loving hearts. They worked in nearby fields for produce and pennies. The household had a mason jar for days when children gave pennies to their mother. She saved every cent for hard times to come and for birthday cake, which needed to be baked every month.
I am Bernadette’s granddaughter. I live in a large house on a leafy street with a fresh, green lawn. I have two babies, one who is seventeen and mighty, one who is seven and still open to believing in magical stories. Yesterday, he came to my workroom holding a single penny. Looking up from my sewing, I watched him drop the coin on my table. “Here’s a penny for you, mommy. A penny for you.”