What about the other five Dionnes?
Pictorial Review - May, 1935
Five little children - the oldest a serious-faced boy aged nine and the youngest a two-year-old girl - sit silently huddled together on the steps of a drab French-Canadian farmhouse. It is a spring morning. Most of the snow has gone, and the stony acres are showing patches of vivid green. The children suddenly lift their heads with interest as the village doctor - the whole world knows him now as Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe - comes chugging up the road on his accustomed round. He waves a greeting. But instead of stopping in front of their house, he brings his car to a halt before a low, modern, freshly-painted wooden building on the other side of the road. It is the hospital-nursery in which the famous Dionne quintuplets are being housed.
As he steps from the car, Dr. Dafoe gathers up a packet of letters and parcels addressed to the quintuplets which he had called for at the village post office on his way to the hospital. This packet, the children notice, is unusually heavy today. For some days now it has been steadily increasing in bulk. They have been told by their parents that their five tiny sisters - for the five silent children are Dionnes, too! - are to celebrate the first anniversary of their birth a few days before the end of May. Already birthday greetings and gifts from hundreds of families in the United States, Canada, and from across the sea, are beginning to arrive. It is to be a gala celebration. None of the other Dionne children has ever had a birthday to compare with it.
The older children are not envious. They are puzzled. They are well aware of the fact that there are five new babies. But what of that? Why is everyone so interested in babies? Are there not other babies on other farms, in whom no one seems to be especially interested? And why has a new house been built just for the five tiny girls? Why are there nurses in white dresses to take care of them? Why does not their own mother watch over them as she watched over the other children? Why do so many strangers come to see the babies? Why do not those same strangers come across the road to speak to them as well?
It is undoubtedly a fact that there are periods in the life of every family during which the older children are, consciously or not, made to feel neglected through excessive attention to the current occupant of the cradle. But probably no modern instance exists where five normal children have been made to stand by and witness the whole world acclaim the birth and development of their five simultaneous baby sisters while they themselves were unnoticed. The slight, of course, has not been intentional. Despite the wide publicity which the Dionne family has received, there must still be many persons who are not really aware of the existence of the five older children. And even where their existence is known, it is somehow taken for granted that the older ones are able to realize the circumstances which make the quintuplets the objects of universal amazement. That, however, is not the case. There is a strong possibility that it may never be.
The older children have not seen much of the quintuplets thus far. Dr. Dafoe, whose unprecedented obstretics are likely to earn him a knighthood from the British crown before many more weeks are past, has given them full sanction to call at the hospital daily. But they are mistrustful, apparently, of all the strangeness. Their mother and father, Elzire and Oliva Dionne, seem also to share their mistrust. The Dionnes are not accustomed to seeing new faces. Last Christmas, for example, the nurses at the hospital across the road decorated a tree for the quintuplets. They invited the five older children to look at it, and stay for cake and other goodies. But they did not accept. They remained in their own house, by the small tree which their parents had put up for them in the usual course of events. Scores of gifts from all parts of the world were received by the five famous little Dionnes. But the other five were remembered only by their parents and a very few outsiders. It may be amusing to relate that the three older Dionne girls were each given "quintuplet dolls" by generous strangers who fancied, no doubt, that the quintuplets were uppermost in the minds of all the Dionnes. The three little girls did not attach nearly as much significance to the "quintuplet" idea as the well-meaning strangers imagined. They played with them as the would with ordinary dolls. Many of the toys received by the five tiniest Dionnes were turned over to their brothers and sistersm since they themselves were too small to be able to enjoy them at that time.
A great number of well-wishers sent cash donations to the quintuplets, specifying it be made part of a fund for their support. And already an amount approximating $100,000 has been banked in the names of the five babies by the Canadian government, which appointed four men, including Dr. Dafoe and theur grandfather, Oliver Dionne, as their official guardians. Members of the government felt duty bound, at the time of their birth, to see that they received every known benefit of modern medical science regardless of the financial straits of their parents. The annualy income reaped in sheaves of wheat from the Dionne farm has averaged $100. Upon this sum, five growing children and two adults were already subsisting. The government promptly put the Dionne family upon the relief rolls, where they are yet.
The official guardians then had the hospital built according to the specifications of Dr. Dafoe, and provided him with nurses, and with clothing and complete supplies for the distinguished infants in his charge. When outside money began reaching the Canadian farmhouse in the form of gifts, the thrifty Oliva Dionne, the father, exercised his traditional, if unaccustomed, parental rights in taking charge of it. The government, however, relieved Mr. Dionne of this pleasant responsibility. By its gesture, it did not mean to evince any mistrust of Oliva, but merely indicated its belief that he and his wife are simple folk who may be imposed upon by shrewd and even unscrupulous promoters, many of whom are hovering near the farmhouse even now. Later, when the health of the five babies is firmly established, the government does not intend to stand in the way of their earning financial independence by going on the stage, or otherwise legitimately capitalizing their world-fame. But the present stream of donations flows only in the direction of the little hospital. The other five children have received nothing from the outside world, and probably never will except in return for hard work.
With their handful of sisters still an unknown factor as far as their utility as playmates is concerned, the older children look almost entirely to themselves for their diversion. Few of the neighbors' children play with them. One reason is that the next nearest house to theirs is a mile off. Another reason, of more recent origin, is the noticable coolness of the neighbors and their children toward the Dionne family as a whole. Among the old friends of the Dionnes - hardworking, simple soil-tillers like themselves who have lived rooted to the bleak fields for generations - it is murmured that the Dionnes have become proud. Oliva Dionne, they say, lauds himself upon his achievment as a father, even though he devoutly vests his fortune in the Almighty. Nor is this attitude improved by what his neighbors seem to divine as a proneness to forget the meaning and dignity of hard work, and to become, so to speak, a country gentleman. They point out that since the event that doubled the Dionne family, Oliva has contrived to halve his work.
From funds solicited from the government, he has treated himself to the luxury of a hired man. His wife has gone to the length of engaging a kitchen girl. Joseph Dionne, the children's uncle, has joined the staff as a kind of private home-guard to assist, or if necessary propel, inquisitive strangers from the Dionne premises unless able to explain their presence upon authoritative grounds. These various transactions and additions to the family in consequence of the notoriety caused by the wholly fortuitous and providential birth of the quintuplets have made the neighbors sensitive. Have not they themselves families as large as that of the Dionnes? Is it their fault to have brought their children normally, one by one, into the world? The Dionnes have no right to prosper because of a miracle of nature, they believe.
Among the discountented neighbors is said to be Elzire Dionne's own father. It appears that her father originally opposed her marriage to Oliva, having a more favorable match in mind. He has never forgotten her rebuke to him. Although he lives nearby, he has not spoken to her for years. The general feeling of impatience with the elder Dionnes has communicated itself into an absence of the ordinary friendliness that should exist between the Dionne children and the children of the neighboring farmers. Possibly this regrettable situation will remedy itself in time.
But the Dionne youngsters are not unhappy. Ernest, the eldest boy, has his dog Rover, a powerful wolfhound, but well-disposed towards those he knows. Therese, six, and Daniel, three, have a litter of kittens. The oldest girl, Rose, acts as petite-mere - little mother - to two-year-old Pauline, who was born in the same room and in the same bed a little less than a year before Yvonne, Cecile, Annette, Emilie and Marie, the quintuplets. The children speak to one another in the French-Canadian dialect of the region. It is almost exclusively the language of the Dionnes, though Oliva Dionne is capable of expressing himself in precise English before visitors. If the quintuplets are to be reared like their five brothers and sisters, they too will speak only the provincial dialect until they are ready for the English school.
Educational facilities in the part of Ontario inhibited by the Dionnes are far from extensive. Last year Ernest and Rose attended a tiny French parochial school for two weeks. Now that the ground has thawed out and the weather is reasonably settled, these two Dionnes will join the small group of students at the larger government school in the village of Callander, where lessons are taught in English. Oliva and his wife wish to give two of their children to the Church: one as a priest, the other as a nun. Which children they will be, remains for the years to decide. Now little Ernest and Rose are starting their school days by walking to Callander and back, a distance of five miles daily along a new road which the government has just built. The road was not built to make the way easier for them, but to insure speedy communication at all times between the village and the hospital-nursery in which the five babies are growing.
A telephone, electric lights, and an electric refrigerator have likewise come into the experience of the older Dionne children because of the quintuplets. Before their arrival, the children possibly seen one of the rare telephones in the village. But now there is a telephone which they may examine to their heart's content in the babies' headquarters. The old, rudely built five-room house in which all the children were born and in which five of them now live, boasted no stronger illumination than that shed by an oil lamp. But the quintuplets have proved to be five good fairies, spreading light on all sides.
Perhaps some day not too far off the Canadian government will bring a motion picture theater into town especially for the quintuplets. Then the other five children, who now sit so silently across the road, may also enjoy their first movie, for they seem fated always to receive what is first meant for their silver-spooned sisters. Five little children - the brothers and sisters of the quintuplets! Will Nature's superabundant gift prove a blessing or a handicap to them? When once the "miracle babies" begin piling up the fortune that assuredly will be theirs from a world eager to see them, will the five ordinary Dionne children find themselves shoved more and more rudely into the background? Will jealousy and other bitter emotions create lifelong dislike of their five younger sisters who, after all, are only the innocent princesses of providence?
Is there a possibility that the older Dionne children will become victims of such inferiority complexes that their lives will be void of accomplishment, even of meaning? Is it not a common truth that in families distinguished by extraordinary marks of tribute to one of their children, the remaining brothers and sisters have often lost the courage of their own personalities? How much more aggravated is the factor of unequal distinction in the case of the Dionnes!
What of the parents? After brutal years spent in wrestling a bare existence from the stony soil, will they now succumb to an all too human desire for comfort, security, luxury? Will they depend upon the quintuplets to provide them with a gilt-edged living as a reward for bringing them into the world? Will they demand in addition that the Canadian government support them, as a prize for their astounding feat of parenthood? Already the goverment has done a magnificent job against almost insuperable odds in giving the quintuplets a chance to live. In this task neither money nor energy was spared. Saving the five infants was a public service of the highest and most humanitarian type, free of the slightest ulterior motive. In return Oliva Dionne, the father, has stopped working upon his farm, feeling perhaps that he has already done his required duty as as a citizen and a parent. Is he justified in believing that the world now owes him a living - better than that: a luxurious living? For the time being he and his family are receiving government money on which to live without the necessity of their usual work.
Should Oliva Dionne be urged, for his own good, to continue pretty much as he has always lived, as his father and grandfather lived before him, as all the Dionnes would have lived now and in time to come, as simple, hardworking, honest, frugal, law-abiding men and women, who asked for no greater joys than those which God and the happiness of their little children gave them? Five little children - modest brothers and sisters of five baby girls whose tiny arms already encircle the globe! Fame and fortune await the babies. What is in store for the other five?
Pictorial Review - May, 1935