By Curt Swarm
---- — By Curt Swarm
With the norm nowadays being one child (or none) per family, it’s unusual, or unheard of, for there to be 12 children in one family. And when they all get together for a family reunion — watch out! But Felix and Lupe Reyes of Floris had 12 children — six girls and six boys! And they were all raised in a three-bedroom home in Flores with no running water. The kids hand carried water from a well for drinking, cooking, laundry and bathing. You can pretty much bet more than one kid used the same bath water! The kids also chopped wood for the wood-burning stove.
On Saturday night, Nov. 9, the Reyes family all got together in Bloomfield for a tamale dinner, because that’s what mom always fixed. On Sunday, they were back for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. The Reyes family knows how to have a reunion! Why not? Whenever you can get all 12 of the children together at one time to honor the loving, Christian, hard working family they came from, it’s an event worth pulling out all the stops!
The 12 kids came from all over the country, as far away as California and Florida. The oldest was born in 1945 and the youngest in 1963. That’s an 18-year spread for 12 children!
Mom and Pop Reyes are both passed away, but what they taught their children is as ingrained as a knot in a hedge post: hard work, trust in God, help others and the family is everything.
When the father, Felix Reyes was 35, and working for the railroad, he rented a sleeping room from the man who was to be his father-in-law, although he didn’t know it at the time. All he knew was that there was a pretty daughter who he couldn’t keep his eyes off of at the dinner table. Lupe was 23. Without ever dating, or even kissing, he asked Lupe to marry him. She said no. He asked her a second time. She still put him off. On the third try, she relented, but Felix would have to ask her father, and the priest. Gulp.
Growing up in Flores, the Reyes were the only Hispanic family in Davis County. Later, the oldest son, James, would be mayor of Bloomfield, the first Hispanic mayor in Iowa.
Ironically, non of the 12 children had large families themselves, although Felix Jr.’s wife also came from a 12-child family. And don’t ask them how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren there are. The number varies depending on who you ask, and it’s a lot of work trying to calculate the number. However, there are more great-grandchildren than grandchildren. Sorta like the sum being greater than the parts.
The children look back with fondness on their life growing up, and wouldn’t change a thing: washing hair under the pump, hanging clothes out on the 10 clothes lines in freezing weather, scrubbing diapers on a washboard, picking shucks in the cornfield for tamales, the girls all sleeping in the same bedroom with their parents, next to their mother’s alter where she prayed. They didn’t even know their mother was pregnant with their youngest brother, Steven, until he was born. Prayer time was at 7 p.m. (they all had to pray on their knees on the wood floor and dare not get caught with their eyes open. If they missed church, they didn’t get to eat that day. James feels that children struggle more today with all that they have, than the Reyes’ family did with nothing, except great parents who loved and worked hard for them.
Their parents never told their kids they loved them. They didn’t have to. The love was demonstrated in all the hard work and sacrifice the parents made for their children each and every day.
With bellies full and familial ties restrengthened, the Reyes family trooped home to their individual lives. Their parents are constantly with them, strengthening their beliefs in the fundamental values of hard work, honesty, trust in God, and family. They pass this along to their kids, and their kids to their kids.
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at (319) 217-0526 or email him at email@example.com.