Feodor Vassilyev is long dead.
He drew his last breath way back in 1782.
He died, though we don’t know of what. My thinking is it was fatigue…
You’ve never heard of him, right? I’m not surprised; he was little more than a peasant.
Why bring him up, you ask? Because, you ignoramus, the man’s a Guinness World Record holder.
This lowly dirt farmer from Shuya, Russia, fathered 87 children during his 70 odd years on this earth. Not a bad effort…though somewhat less impressive after a Google search informed me that Shuya is boring as hell and there were no TV’s back then, so what else was a man to do?
Feodor achieved this ball-achingly impressive effort of population amplification via his two wives over the span of almost half a century. And whilst at first glance the math seems incongruous, it makes some sense (???) when you discover that his cohort of no doubt poorly clad progeny included four sets of quads, nine sets of triplets, and 24 sets of twins!
Now before you get excited or distracted by these impressive stats or the man’s inarguably William Shatner-esque level of virility, stop. Neither of these factors are the focus of this story. This story isn’t about Feodor. He’s had his moment in the sun; his story appeared in the 1783 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. 53 p. 753, London. It laid out the salient facts quite nicely, I’m told.
This story is about his first wife.
Wifey Numero Uno.
BECAUSE between 1725 and 1765 Valentina bore 69 of the Vassilyev tribe. She delivered in a total of 27 births – including 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets – 69 little Vassilyev’s. And whilst that’s certainly nowhere near as impressive as a female oyster who can easily knock out over 100 million young in her lifetime, thankfully we’re talking humans here, not oysters. So Valentina, wherever you are, take a bow. You’ve earned it.
This story pays tribute to Mrs. Valentina Vassilyev, Guinness World Record holder for most children birthed by a single woman. Equally, it pays tribute to all mothers who have brought little people into this world, whether in hospitals, homes or barren Soviet fields much like Valentina did. But, most importantly, this story is a tribute to my mother, a woman you’ve probably never heard of, yet someone who is famous to the troika of progeny she birthed, raised and released into the world.
Call me bias, but I’m very glad my mother is my mother…
In her lifetime, my mother has done countless cool and interesting things. She was one of the first women in the country to drive rally cars. She did some modelling (but please don’t get me started about how weird it is to discover a photo of your young mother splayed across the bonnet of a sports car, Freud would have a field day!). She worked in community projects helping abused and disadvantaged women, after all too recently being one herself. She entered local politics, swayed the vote and later ended up with a federal position. She became a Civil Celebrant and married dozens of new couples. She travelled the world, for real and through countless books. The list goes on.
But those are just facts. Facts devoid of impact. Sure, I’ve told you that she entered politics, and you may choose to believe that this is a noble thing to do, or not, but that’s simply a fact. What’s not a mere fact – what is a testament to the woman more than anything else – is that she persevered in this muddy profession after receiving threats against her person and being treated like chump by oftentimes corrupt, power-wielding, game playing Neanderthals. Why? Because she believed in something. She believed she could make a difference, and that she had to make that difference. Her belief was bigger than threats, a few unkind words or some momentarily hurt feelings.
That’s a very important lesson to learn as a young person…
She also believed in the value of words. I remember we had books in our hands from a very early age, and at the times when we couldn’t afford food, we often had little more than books and each other. That’s a very cool memory and legacy. Over my 40 plus years I’ve learned many things about myself, some good, some not so. But what I’ve learned about the man that I am today is that many of the traits that make me me, come from her. And I’m fairly certain my sisters would feel the same way, though whether they choose to so openly admit this or not is up to them:)
On the plus side, at some point in the careers of my sisters and myself we’ve all been public servants. We’ve all served our country in one way or another. We’ve also served ourselves by remaining fans of the written word, we all read whenever we get the chance. We’ve also all become our own people, which may feel like an empty statement until you get the opportunity to play Diane Fossey and witness us all in the one room (think a smarter, less glossy, version of the Kardashian’s in a small room arguing over tax reform rather than shoes, sham marriages or sex tapes).
None of us suffer fools, not sure if this goes in the plus or minus column, and none of us will back down if we find ourselves being bullied, bashed or browbeaten. Mum taught us that, though not so much with a blackboard and chalk, more so by edifying this trait in day to day life. We’re also nobody’s fools; she taught us all to think for ourselves, to think before we acted.
Case in point…
Due to the lack of adult male in our house, it was left to mum to suffer through the onerous task of giving me the old ‘birds and bees’ sermon. Her version: you can drink, smoke or f@ck, but do it and you have to deal with the consequences, whatever they may be. Music to a teenage boys ears, you say? Well the tune faded all too soon. A handful of days later I purloined a half bottle of Tia Maria from the top of the fridge and three stubbies of VB from the bottom shelf, then headed off with some school friends to get myself right royally drunk at the local teenage drinking spot.
Hours later, I managed to stagger home in a very sore and sorry state, where I was relieved to make it to bed after a less than tactful vomit in the front yard failed to wake my sleeping mother. I was less relieved, however, to be woken the next morning by my mother who proceeded to drag me by the ear to the now cold pile of multi-coloured offal before forcing me to clean it up.
Lesson learned. Thanks mum.
This memory, however vulgar in topic, led to more memories, which in turn soon had me laughing to myself on the tram ride home, so much so that at one point a person actually moved away from me. I recalled when she broke a wooden spoon across my derriere after discovering my cunning act of rebellion at being forced to poison the bindies in the front lawn. I wrote SHIT in upper case letters, I think it was a sans serif font, right in the middle of the yard. She attempted to punish me, only to discover that the wooden spoon was no longer a viable tool for ‘managing’ a teenage boy.
Interestingly, I was never asked to poison innocent bindies again…
That same year she managed to pay me back by forcing me to play badminton as a school sport. And as much as this embarrassed me at the time (go on, name the world’s three sexiest badminton players, I dare you?), years later the joke was on her (and me) when her punishment led me to captain the army team to win a stunning, first ever victory over the navy and air force badminton teams at the annual inter-service sport competition.
Not a big win, but a win none the less.
Which is fine by me because we need wins in life to embolden us.
I remembered how she took us around the world before we all left home to head off to university and out into the big bad world. I watched as she argued with Abercrombie, our Egyptian guide, as he did his best to trade my sister for two camels and a cow. How, in less affluent times, she silently drank a cup of coffee for dinner whilst we ate mashed potato because we had little else, and how she managed to scramble together enough money to send me away to another state to undertake a week of work experience in the army where I got to fire a rocket launcher!
One time, she earned my wraith for laughing herself to tears after witnessing my ex-fiancé accidentally douse my innocent crotch with piping hot custard and Christmas pudding, but then I remembered a decade earlier when she held my hand and told the doctor how brave I was as he removed half a highway of gravel from my face with a scrubbing brush after an accident that left my face looking like grated cheese. Then there was the time I left her on barracks with some mates whilst I went to pick up pizza, only to return and discover her drinking rum and playing poker with my army buddies, laughing, smoking and swearing right along with them.
I have a very cool mum. It’s taken me a while to realise this, but now I know…
Spending our lives lost in memories does not serve us, but taking the time every now and then to remember how we got where we are today, to remember and celebrate the people that got us here, will. Not all memories are good. Some are flawed and biased with passing years. But every memory is a moment lived. A lesson learned. Or not. This week has taught me one lesson that I’m glad I learned: so many of my memories of life as a floundering child and young man have my mother at their core. Which makes sense, because the core of the man I am today comes from her.
So this Mother’s Day, or as the over coiffed and cologned French call it Fete des Meres, don’t forget to remember. The life you have today, the person you are, and aren’t, is in no small part the result of a woman who may never enter the history books or the Guinness Book of Records, yet whose contribution to your life is far more meaningful than the lives of those few who have had the good fortune to have their names captured for eternity in print.
I have a good life. A happy life. Come to think of it, a great life actually. Sure, it hasn’t always been this way, but my mother did all she ever needed to do. She gave me the tools to make sense of the world. To read and write, and to read wrong from right. To make mistakes. To fall and rise. And fall. And rise. And rise again ad infinitum. So on this Mother’s Day I’m glad I remembered to publicly thank the most important woman in my life for being herself. Always.
Mum, I thank you for being you, and for making me me.
I love you and I wish you every happiness.
Your little boy:)
P.S. Whilst I know for a fact that my mother isn’t an oyster, I suspect she is part giraffe. As the David Attenborough fans out their will know, a mother giraffe gives birth while standing, meaning that a new born’s first experience is a sudden long drop to the ground. The assortment of dents in my head lead me to believe that my mother ‘may’ have ‘occasionally’ ‘accidentally’ dropped me, but hey, since its Mother’s Day I choose to forgive and forget…I still love her because I learnt to bounce!