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Adventures of a mom with 13 kids

By Judith Linder-Ashakih • May 14, 2017 at 12:00 PM

“People ask me why I have so many kids (13) and I tell them, ‘Do you think I planned that? I was going to have six,’” says Mary Landoll-Kline, who has just enjoyed her 90th birthday, and who was chosen as Norwalk’s Bicentennial Queen in November. She showed off her crown. “It doesn’t fit quite right.”

“I’m the oldest of seven children. My father died when I was 21. My parents had already separated and re-married, and I also have a half-brother and a half-sister. I took care of my younger siblings for years and thought I knew it all (about raising children) but, no.

“I didn’t agree with people doting on their kids. It was too much when they praised them for every little thing. Some were so attentive it was sickening. How are they going to handle situations when they grow up if they expect to be praised by a boss just for doing their job? How will they learn self-confidence? Don’t expect to be bailed out. Common sense — how do you teach it? I wanted the kids to grow up to accomplish something.

“And lying is one thing — that’s the end of it for me. It absolutely was not allowed. How are you going to believe anybody who does much lying?

“I didn’t spank them much,” Mary explained, “never pulled their ears or beat them on their face or head, just hit them on their bottoms, not hard, but enough for them to be scared if you have to play god,” she says with a laugh. “When we were kids we had to choose a branch from the lilac bush for our own switching. If it was too small, we would have to pick a larger one. Times have changed.”

Mary is very proud of each of her 13 children. John Robert, her first son, was born in Bellevue. All the rest were born in Norwalk. They are James Andrew, Timothy Charles, Christopher Michael, Paula Jean-Marie, Claudia Rosanne, Marianna Louise, Ellen Elizabeth, Matthew Anthony, Martin Joseph, Barbara Jane, Thomas Xavier and Carolyn Clare.

Mary graduated in 1946 as salutatorian of St. Paul’s. 

“I graduated in June and in August married Robert Edward Kline. Then the same year we opened the ‘Side-O-Hill’ Dairy Store on Benedict Avenue hill below Seminary, with my sister’s husband as a partner. We were right next to my father-in-law’s barber shop.”

Mary worked alongside Bob during her first pregnancy, she said, until her mother-in-law thought she shouldn’t be seen behind the counter anymore. 

“That’s the way people thought in those days.

“When I married into the Kline family, I thought it was good. They had five children. After marriage we lived with my in-laws for a very long three weeks until we found a rental on Christie Avenue. After a year the house was to be sold. We only had one day’s notice if we wanted to buy, so we bought it and paid in cash. My husband hated to owe money. He had a paper route when he was seven, delivering the Cleveland paper. They could make their own route then so he went to pool halls, restaurants, businesses and always saved his money. When he died in 2012, I found money hidden under sticky paper in the bottom of his dresser drawers.”

Mary said that because Bob loved talking to people, he enjoyed visiting his many relatives to catch up with the news. 

“We would go to Medina, New Washington, to the farms, and he’d be playing cards with his cousins. Here I’m sitting with a baby who needs to go to bed. We never had routine bedtimes. ‘I’ll only be a minute,’ he would say and leave the family in the car. He’d forget time. Here we are in the car waiting and I’d have to send in a kid to remind him it is time to go. It was a way for him to relax after long hours at the store. I married a boy, and I buried a boy.” They were married for a few days short of 66 years.

In 1967, after all the kids were born, Mary was looking for a larger house. She found a brick one at last. 

“I picked the house, he didn’t even see it. He didn’t want to buy it because it needed some work. Quite a lot. I had saved $300 and took it with me to the bank. ‘I’m buying a house, what can you do for me?’ I asked the banker. He came around to see it and said, ‘Well, it does have style.’ We got a loan because we already had one house we lived in and another rental.”

It turned out that Bob had saved $3,000 from a job he had taken on a steamer previously and put that toward the house. Eventually Bob said buying that house was one of the best things Mary ever did.

“We went to Canada several times. Once we went for a three-day vacation, before the Welland Canal was dug. Once we left a child there. The youngest girl had been left in the restroom when we left. I had forgotten to count them. When we stopped to get on the ferry I counted them when they got out of the car. One missing. I counted again and one was still missing. We went back to the motel and she was there waiting for us, right where we left her.”

The kids had fun at stoplights when they realized that they were being counted. One of them would duck down and hide, then another. They laughed about it.”

“Once my husband left one at Schild’s grocery. She was there for a long time. At home we hadn’t missed her. Finally a clerk who knew who she was came by the house and brought her home. She was happy because she had a lolly pop. She never seemed to find it traumatic.”

“When we were on Christie, Ellen was missing. I thought, ‘Did she go out on her tricycle?’ I looked all up and down the street. We finally found her asleep under the buffet, up against the wall where it was hard to see her.

“Some of the children are more responsible, some are doers, some are watchers. When our fourth girl was small she would not talk, just watch everyone, sit not moving just absorbing it all. I was worried why she didn’t talk. Now she’s very verbally gifted and also was her class salutatorian. She always had all A grades, so one day she came home very upset with an F. I went in to talk to her teacher. It turned our she put the F on the wrong line, and it changed all the following grades.”

“A funny story is that one time when Bob, our oldest, came to visit with his little son, Carolyn, our youngest by 19 years, thought he was just someone who dropped in to visit. He had been gone from the house since she was little. No one mentioned that he was her brother. Was she ever surprised.” Mary says that “it’s when we are older, about 55, that we realize how green we were.”

A big disappointment to Mary was when the hospital wouldn’t let her go to vote the day one of her daughters was born on Election Day. “I promised to come back,” she said.

Marianna’s name was inspired by a wonderful Christmas card. One daughter, after being a special-needs teacher, is now working as a guardian ad litum for the court. There are so many reasons for being proud of each of the children. They are independent thinkers, talented in diverse ways, loving, helpful and have a sense of humor. There are two artists, one in the west and one on the east coast. They are skilled in business, education, healthcare and they are all smart.

They are all very family oriented. In fact family parties are so large  that they have to be held at Mary’s house, the only place large enough to hold everyone, and the first thing you see coming in the kitchen is a large color photo on the cupboard of the youngest great-great grandchild. When asked how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren she had, Mary said, “Wait I’ll have to sit down and start counting.”

Mary proudly adds “besides that, they all pay taxes.”

Mary has plenty more stories to tell and maybe a book to write some day. She says her best talent is multi-tasking, which seems a perfect qualification for a mother of 13. The hardest part has come with the problem of cutting down the amounts of food to cook lately.

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