Elderly siblings of family of 19 recall wonderful childhood

Elderly siblings of family of 19 recall wonderful childhood

Quite often today, if you tell someone you have four kids they gasp at the immensity of your family and wonder how one could care for so many children. Here’s a story that puts it all into perspective. The eldest sibling of 19 brothers and sisters just turned 97 and recalls the wonder of her family.

Lucienne Dupuis learned early in life how to be a good big sister - 18 times over.

Dupuis, 97, is the matriarch among the 19 siblings in the St. Pierre family, born to Joseph and Beatrice St. Pierre of Salem between 1910 and 1934, all single births.

Now, eight brothers and sisters are left, and Lucienne lives at the Hunt nursing home in Danvers with her sister Eva Castronova, who just celebrated her 93rd birthday. The occasion gave the family a chance to reminisce.

Growing up, the St. Pierres ate dinner in two shifts because there wasn’t enough space for everyone at the table, and the family went through a sack of potatoes and 70 loaves of bread each week.

“We all helped my mother feed the younger ones, then we would eat,” Lucienne said. “Then we did all the dishes.”

The 10 sisters and nine brothers had to write their names on each toothbrush to keep track of them, and between them all, they wore through three pairs of shoes a week.

… Beatrice St. Pierre kept her family’s home immaculate. The children pitched in to clean, and the older sisters would help wash the babies.

“I’d wash two kids, and another sister would wash two kids, and so on,” Jeannette said.

The older sons helped their father cook, and the children were never permitted to argue.

“My father was a stern man and my mother was a disciplinarian,” Jim St. Pierre said. “We were a very, very tight-knit family - very helpful to one another.”

Sounds so foreign to the mainstream take on large families today. What stands out is that the children didn’t feel neglected, they all enjoyed their childhood, and they didn’t want for anything. Yet the number one excuse I hear for not having a big family is that kids get neglected, mom and dad can’t give them the attention they need, and they might “want” for something in their lives.

  • It is ironic that in today’s world it is okay, even encouraged to pay day care workers, nanny’s and babysitters to take care of your kids for 80% of the day, but if an older sibling does it, it represents neglect.

  • My grandfather, Gerald H. Plourde (b.1912, d.1984) who hailed from Trois Rivieres, Quebec and emigrated to Manchester, NH in the 1920’s and eventually settled in Lynn, MA was also from a family of 19. In his case only 10 lived to see adulthood since child mortality was still very high in the early 20th century. Diseases as Polio, TB and Influenza were often fatal. Interestingly, his father (my great grandfather) dropped dead of a heart attack at 54, leaving my great grandmother with 10 plus children. She lived to 105!!

    Incidently, Gerald’s wife (my grandmother) an Acadienne, hailing from rural New Brunswick Clara (LeBlanc) Plourde (b.1908) will celebrate her 99th birthday this Friday she was one of six.

    The Plourdes were life long Communicants of Saint Jean Baptiste in Lynn.