One income, 12 children, 10 acres, and no running water.
When Sethea was very young, she remembers seeing her father crying and not understanding what was wrong. As it turned out, Robert and Ethel had been building a house for their growing family, and the builder took off with their money. Buying another place for a family their size wasn’t easy, but they eventually found a farmhouse on 10 acres of land in Hinsdale, Illinois, where they lived for the next 10 years.
The six girls shared one bedroom with three queen-sized beds all lined up in a row, two girls to a bed. Sethea has many fond memories of that farmhouse. She and her siblings would make their own fun by sliding down the banister or slipping around on the kitchen floor in their underpants (when Mom and Dad were gone, of course).
The farmhouse didn’t have running water. They used a well in the backyard for awhile, but they eventually drained it. After that, Robert would go to the gas station at least twice a day to fill up five gallon jugs of water. “We were always very careful using water because we didn’t want to waste it,” Sethea said.
They had an outhouse, and when the toilet was full, they would carry it out on their land, dig a hole and bury it. “I remember the weeds would grow in the springtime and sometimes the toilet paper would look like flowers out there,” Sethea laughed. “We didn’t think anything of it.”
The quirks of a large family living without running water were normal to them. The kids didn’t know differently and didn’t see it as a big inconvenience. Besides, Mom always made things fun. Ethel often took the kids to parks, and planned picnics and get togethers with their many aunts, uncles and cousins.
One of Sethea’s favorite family outings was to a water park in Joliet, Illinois. When her dad would come home from work, her mom would pack the car, and they’d drive to Joliet to swim for a couple of hours. On the way back, they’d stop at an ice cream shop in Naperville and each get a pint of ice cream. They’d bring their own spoons and eat their treats as they listened to the Beatles playing over the radio in their station wagon.
She and her siblings also took advantage of living on 10 acres of land. One of their neighbors had a tractor and would cut a maze in the fields for them. Robert bought a dune buggy, and the kids had a blast learning to drive through that maze.
And unlike Ethel, many of Sethea’s brothers developed a life-long love for cars from their childhood days at the farmhouse.