When Mary Ann Fleming has a holiday gathering, she doesn't clear space around the Christmas tree. She rents a room.
A big one.
When Fleming and her family hold their annual Christmas party Sunday, they'll do it at the Rosemount Community Center. By her estimate, there will be 100 or more people there. And that's just close family.
Between the 11 children she raised, her 30-some grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren, the guest list adds up quickly. Fleming had 200 guests at her recent 90th birthday party, also held at the community center.
The family makes sure to get its deposit down early each year to make sure the room will be available for them.
The big crowd makes for a fun gathering, but it also presents certain challenges.
"The day's too short," Fleming said. "You don't have time to visit with them all."
Fleming and her husband raised their children in a house on Cambrian Avenue that doesn't look nearly big enough for the task. There is a finished basement, though, and the kitchen space currently occupied by a small round table was once filled with a longer, rectangular version, lined on either side by benches. There wasn't a lot of elbow room, but it worked.
"A lot of food went through that house," Fleming said.
There are six Fleming boys and five girls, with a 15-year spread between the oldest and the youngest. The youngest child was 10 years old when Fleming's husband died of of cancer in November of 1972.
The children provided a convenient staff for the janitorial service Fleming and her husband ran.
"We put quite a few of them to work," Fleming said. "It was hard. They were going to school in the daytime."
Fleming was born Sept. 17, 1920 and grew up on a grain farm in Castle Rock Township. She never attended high school. She lived too far out of town, and with no buses to take her back and forth she couldn't get to class.
She worked for International Harvester during World War II, inspecting 30 mm machine guns. She sold war bonds, too.
Fleming lived for a year or two in Detroit, where her sister had settled with her husband, but she was back in Dakota County when she met the man who would become her husband, a soldier just back from the war. Her brother introduced them at a dance.
"We had fun," she said. "He was a good dancer. He was a good worker. He was good to me. Good with the kids."
They met in September of 1945 and married the following June.
"We just happened to like the same things," she said. "We got along really well."
The couple operated a cattle farm in Dennison for a while, but with little money coming in they sold the land and moved to Randolph, then Rosemount. He started his janitorial company. Fleming helped him with that and continued to work her own job in Castle Rock.
These days, Fleming finds a number of ways to keep busy. She plays 500 Mondays with the Rosemount Area Seniors and belongs to a couple of other card groups. She crochets. The tablecloth that decorates that round table in the kitchen is the first of 29 she's made in the past decade.
And, of course, she keeps track of relatives. In her family, it's practically a full-time job.