Monday, September 7, 2009

We Are Five Ways a Man

The Dionne quintuplets were born May 28, 1934, five days after my grandfather. His birth was rather uneventful, comparatively. Elzire Dionne had suspected she was carrying twins; no one knew quintuplets were even possible. The girls are identical and were created from one single egg cell.

"The babies were kept in an ordinary wicker basket borrowed from the neighbors, with heated blankets. They were brought into the kitchen and set by the open door of the stove to keep warm. One by one, they were taken out of the basket and massaged with olive oil. Every two hours, for the first twenty-four, they were fed water sweetened with corn syrup. By the second day they were moved to a slightly larger laundry basket, and kept warm with hot-water bottles. They were watched constantly and often had to be roused. After the second day they were fed with "seven-twenty" formula: cow's milk, boiled water, two spoonfuls of corn syrup, and one or two drops of rum for a stimulant."

None of them were expected to live. The farming family had already birthed six children, one had died of pneumonia. Elzire, the mother, was 25 and had ten children. When they were four months old, custody of the Dionne girls was taken by the government of Ontario, to ensure their continued survival and probably to take some strain off of the family. A compound ("Dafoe Hospital and Nusery" after their physician) was built across the street from the family home.

"The compound had an outdoor playground designed to be a public observation area. It was surrounded by a covered arcade that allowed tourists to observe the sisters behind one-way screens. ... Every morning they dressed together in a big bathroom, had doses of orange juice and cod-liver oil, and then went to have their hair curled. They said a prayer before breakfast, a gong was sounded, and they ate breakfast in the dining room. After thirty minutes, they had to clear the table, even if they weren't done. At nine o'clock was their morning inspection with Dr. Dafoe. ... They bathed every day before dinner and put on their pajamas. Dinner was served at precisely six o'clock. Then, they went into the quiet playroom to say their evening prayers. Each girl had a color and a symbol to mark what was hers. Annette's color was red with a maple leaf. Cecile's color was green and her design a turkey. Emilie had white and a tulip, while Marie had blue and a teddy bear, and Yvonne had pink and a bluebird."

6,000 people a day visited the observation gallery that surrounded the outdoor playground.

From a blog on the quintuplets: "Supposedly, the darkness inside the viewing area, coupled with screens, would make it impossible for the Quints to know that they were being observed. But the quints caught on quickly - they might not have been able to see the tourists, but they certainly could hear them."

They're five moments in time. If we can overlap ourselves, it looks like this. We feel like him, her. We look like him, her. And different a minute later. They have the same face five ways, the exact same expressions, but individual timing. Questions about identity are often questions about timing - the parts of the self that are responsive are at the whim of the timing of the rest of the world, other people, events, the day. The ordering of events, the way they stack up, plays another role in how we respond. If it were possible to have simultaneous experience, they'd be one Dionne girl, five times.
Main Entry: un·can·ny
Pronunciation: \-ˈka-nē\
Function: adjective
Date: 1773

1 a : seeming to have a supernatural character or origin : eerie, mysterious b : being beyond what is normal or expected : suggesting superhuman or supernatural powers
Five times 10,300. Google image results for "Dionne Quintuplets."

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