Edith Creekmore began rounding up family members in her living room last weekend in a brave attempt to introduce everyone to two visitors. It's a job far more difficult than it sounds.
Creekmore tried to huddle people into manageable groups of immediate families. The adults did pretty well, but tiny children randomly squirmed about, seemingly everywhere at once. Once Creekmore finally got everyone into his or her place, she began working her way through the family introductions. Then came the hard part: remembering the names.
After working her way through many of her six children and 16 grandchildren, she hit a snag.
"And this is Summer," she said, pointing to a young girl.
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The room erupted into a chorus of "No!"
Creekmore smiled sheepishly and covered her eyes with her hands as everyone razzed her.
"OK, OK," she said. "This is Faith. That's Summer over there."
Botching the names of family members can be difficult to live down. However, in this family, it's pretty much expected.
As Creekmore finished the introductions, messing up on only one other child's name, the woman who started it all, Creekmore's mother, great-great-grandmother Gerry Ham, politely sat amid the chaos, happy to have some of her family together again.
As you can see, the entire Ham family does not gather easily. As one family member put it, getting everyone together might require renting a football stadium.
Heading into the interview, I had learned only a few details about Ham. I knew she was a great-great-grandmother and, by all accounts, a great mother. I decided to meet with her to see about writing a Mother's Day story about her.
However, shortly after arriving at her home, I began to notice there always were countless people there moving about in all directions. As I watched them, I noticed something else: They were never the same people. After a few minutes of this confusion, I grew curious about the number.
"OK," I said, loud enough to be heard over the ever-present din of conversation, "how many people are in this family?"
Everyone laughed, but no one produced a number. I think that's because no one knew for sure. "A lot" seemed to be the consensus.
Finally, Creekmore disappeared into a back room and returned with two sheets of paper that held all the names of Ham's offspring. It was a daunting list, put together last year by Creekmore to help Ham -- whom everyone simply calls Grandma -- organize her Christmas shopping itinerary. Creekmore assembled the list of 83 names while watching TV; it took her more than an hour.
Here are the astounding numbers of Ham's offspring:
Forty-five great-grand- children
Six great-great-grand- children
Although there were roughly 30 people at Ham's Modesto home last weekend, it still ranked as a rather small collection. There were more than 200 people at the last official family gathering many years ago, and the list has grown significantly since. In fact, Ham added three great-great-grandchildren to the list over seven days in January.
"Getting together is a loud, chaotic thing," said Tabatha Reese, one of Ham's great-grandchildren. "It's worse on Christmas and Thanksgiving. Not 'worse,' but it's loud, and everybody's talking and joking and picking on each other. I guess that's the best time, because Grandma gets to see everyone together. She's really proud of her family."
Ham, 87, was born in Arkansas and moved to the Central Valley in the 1940s after World War II. She and her husband, Wallace, who died in 1998, had seven children together.
Ham is known for her baking. She has won numerous blue ribbons at the Stanislaus County Fair. Her specialties are pickled beets and prune cake, the latter a family tradition that dates back more than 100 years.
But for Ham, what matters most is spending time with her family.
"Days like today are so great," she said. "This is the first time I've had this many great-great-grandchildren together at once. It's wonderful. I could never be happier than having everyone together like this."
As Ham talked about her life, her children gathered around her at the dining room table, everyone swapping stories of growing up on a dairy where Wallace worked.
"Every morning, we'd all sit down together and have homemade biscuits, gravy, sausage, bacon and oatmeal," Creekmore said. "For lunch, it was things like pork chops and mashed potatoes. For dinner, it was another full, hot meal. It was always three full meals a day, every day. She was always in the kitchen."
As for Mother's Day, there will be no cooking, as some of the Ham family plan to take Grandma out to dinner. She's certainly earned it. Besides, they said, the woman has cooked enough for several lifetimes.
"In my heart, she's the best mother ever," Creekmore said.
Ham looked over at her daughter and smiled.
"Thank you," she said.
"You're welcome," Creekmore replied. "Thank you."
Bee staff writer Ty Phillips can be reached at email@example.com or 874-5716.