Do you remember: Leo John and Julia Marie Kailing

By Richard Karns

Special to the Herald Review

Writing an article about the Kailing family was very enjoyable, because I can relate to them easily.

In a large family, it can sometimes feel like two different families, depending where you fall in the line of siblings. It is strange in so many ways that you can come from the same parents, live in the same house and have a different perspective of your family life. To show this perspective, I talked with Leo, who is 15 years older than his sister, Evelyn. Although their stories aren't so different, the time between them can't help but reflect on what it was like for each of them.

Leo John Kailing was born in 1899 to Theodore and Katherine Kailing. Julia Marie Lenahan (known to most as Marie) was born on Feb. 23, 1915, to Joseph and Hattie Johnson Lenahan. Leo and Marie were married in April 20, 1933. They raised all of their 16 children to adulthood: Lucille, Leo (known as Sonny), Thomas, Lawrence, Louie, Rosie, Lois, Theresa, Susie, Cathy, Vincent, Evelyn, David, Dorothy, Mike and Keith. For a time, Leo worked in Detroit at Ford Motor Company, then started farming at 80th Avenue in Lake County.

Both Leo and Evelyn stated it was endless work taking care of the farm. They said they had a large vegetable garden and Leo told me, "I was always working in that garden." Evelyn remembers their mother wanted to be in the garden, too, when they were working in it. The boys would help their father in the fields, planting and harvesting wheat, oats and corn. They would go to their uncle's farm and help him pick potatoes, which would be added to their own crop of potatoes. In most large families during the time, bread and potatoes were two staples they counted on.

Marie was the chief cook and in charge of everything else that needed to take place in the house. Both Leo (Sonny) and Evelyn said their mother would bake and can everything you could imagine, and also made sauerkraut they kept in a barrel in the basement. Evelyn said her mother would bake nine loaves of bread twice a week, and when they had soup she would make biscuits. The girls were taught how to cook, bake bread and do housework. The boys would go hunting to provide some meat besides pork that was preserved in a barrel of salt brine. A usual breakfast during the week was hot oatmeal, Malt-O-Meal or Cream of Wheat. On the weekends, they would have eggs and pancakes. If they had powdered milk, they would use it to make hot chocolate.

Marie would wash the clothes using a ringer washer twice a week. The clothes would be hung outside, and when the weather didn't allow it, they were hung inside. Leo and Evelyn said it wasn't an uncommon thing to walk between the clothes to go to bed.

Taking care of the farm meant taking care of the livestock too. Leo said it wasn't unusual to have 15 to 20 cows that needed to be milked by hand. He was glad when they got electricity in the barn so they could use electric milkers. Their dad and the older boys would separate the milk from the cream and churned it into butter.

Leo stated when his father became ill, he, along with his mother, took over running the farm. As the siblings got older, they found jobs, some moved away, some got married or went into the service. In February 1953, Leo was drafted into the U.S. Army and served two years in the 3rd Army Division stationed in Germany. One of the soldiers in the same unit was none other than Elvis Aaron Presley. I asked what he was like and was told he was just "a regular guy. He didn't make a big deal of himself."

Evelyn shared that Lent and Advent preparation was a special time. Leo and Marie would get all of the kids together after chores and supper to say the rosary. Christmas trees were always cut from the wild and brought into the house just a couple of days before Christmas. The tree would stay up until the epiphany. They would get a toy, a game or mostly clothes as gifts. Leo said growing up the family played cards and other games. Evelyn said on Christmas and Thanksgiving, their mother would have them scrub and wax the floors.

Both Leo and Evelyn shared that in the spring and summer, it was fun to catch the lightning bugs. "We would work to put them in a jar with holes in the top, and then we would let them go," they said. If you have ever tried to catch lightning bugs, it is a challenge.

Leo married Ruth Ann Olson from Big Rapids in 1958. They have three children: Steve, Leann and Jeffrey. Leann married Joel Benson and Joel said of his father-in-law, "I have learned so much from him." Joel said he wouldn't be able to do many of the things he knows how to do if it hadn't been for Leo. Evelyn says too of her brother, "I am always amazed at how much he knows. He knows how to do almost anything you would need to have done."

I am the youngest of 12, so I can relate to this family in a lot of ways. One thing that was a common thread was the love for each other and the joy of laughter. I think laughter is medicine for the soul.