Photo: Michael Peterson, Flickr Creative Commons
This post is actually a partially fictional essay. I started with a sliver of family history and took it from there. Many of the details and events are completely made up, or stolen.
My great-grandfather had a huge head. One would hope it was simply this grotesque physical trait that explained how he killed three wives through the act of child bearing. The more likely truth is that he simply bred them to death. Getting knocked up just wasn't that safe back in the day and the guy apparently had a pretty large libido. He had 26 children.
I at least hope he was good in bed. The poor women he married had little time for anything but chores and birthing babies outside of the bedroom. The least the man could do for them was to make the act of insemination pleasant. Or, maybe he just had a really great personality. I don't really know. He was dead not long after my grandfather, his youngest child, was born. Heck, most of offspring were dead or dying before I was born and they tended to be a long-lived brood. The old man died of age, the time period, and its related symptoms. His wife at the time was younger than some of his earlier children.
The lived in one of those old-timey farm houses you still see deep in the rural South. Of course, back then it wasn't so old-timey. It was just a house, but built in the style of the time and place, very square and off the ground and with ceilings so high that from a distance, one would think it was actually two stories. There was a reason homes were built this way. The crawlspace was left open so breezes could flow under the house and every room had to have windows to the outside to let the breezes pass through and the high ceilings helped with the heat as well. These houses usually had a couple of chimneys for fireplaces, but these were usually an afterthought. Keeping cool was always more important where they grew up.
Having a big family was important in these times too, especially if you were a farmer, and that's what my great-grandfather was, although I wonder if he actually did any physical labor himself by the time he was 40 with such a large clan. He was more of a foreman assigning kids to crews and sending them off to do the work he used to do until the first clutch was old enough to take over. It's unclear if my great-grandfather even knew my grandfather's name. There were just so many of them and I could easily see them all starting to run together after a particular point.
My great-grandfather died in his 80s, his last wife only in her 40s. Unlike the first three women, she only had two or three kids by the old man, the last one my grandfather. She would go on to live for more than 50 years as a widow, dying just before her 100th birthday, raising up the last of the gargantuan brood and being known for being rather strict and severe. This doesn't surprise me much. Being around kids too much can only dry up one's soul and suck out the joy of living.
I like to think that if this man got into heaven (I don't know enough about his personal life one way or the other to make any assumptions), that his first three wives got to take a nice swift kick to his testes before he was allowed in through the pearly gates. It would have been only fitting.