It it is all I ever knew. My mom, dad, brother, grandfather and grandmother all took me home from the hospital. I was “their baby.” I came home to “our home”- all six of us. Our home was a custom built duplex in our small town of Forest grove. I grew up with two kitchens, two living rooms, two bathrooms, two dining rooms, two China cupboards, two sets of washers and dryers, two pianos, two yellow family station wagons, two sofas, two land line telephone numbers (503-357-2605 & 503-357-3918), two sets of parents. Two sets-one house. My parents and my grandparents lived under one roof with two addresses: 3333 and 3331 17th Place. That was our family home. Almost a city acre, a large garden, room to play with comfortable back porches for picnics. They built it that way. They planned it, purchased the large lot and built a home and life together.
(Insert “a family” for “cities”)
I would hear other children during show and tell share about “going to visit grandma and grandpa” and I remember thinking to myself , “How sad they live far away. I get mine every day and all the time.” I loved having my grandparents right there. They were warm, generous, kind, active and taught me all sorts of old school skills like canning produce, old fashioned recipes, crochet, how to thoroughly clean a house, how to properly prune a rose bush, how to weed a garden, how to operate a pump and how to properly plan, plant and water a large garden. I learned how to hem a skirt by hand, how to embroider tea towels, how to know when vegetables and ready to pick, and how to really get a bathtub squeaky clean. I learned how to cut hair, how to give a permanent, how to properly set a table, how to play the piano, and how warm stewed tomatoes with cottage cheese and toast for breakfast on a frosty morning is actually quite yummy. I learned that bacon and eggs can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
My grandfather went into the rabbit business with me, funding my 4H rabbits and hutches. I listened to hours of stories of my grandma’s childhood on the farm and my grandfather’s stories of world war 1. I truly understood what the Great Depression was like to live through. I learned generosity to neighbors as my grandfather divided up and distributed all his extra produce to friends and neighbors for free. There were sacks and boxes and bushels of organic produce for anyone who could use it.
My grandparents became adoptive grandparents to all the neighborhood kids. They often would hire us to weed, paying .25 cents a bucket. They would always give wrapped Christmas presents to my closest friends. They were our audience for our outdoor talent shows and would come running if we fell while roller skating and would patch up our skinned knees and elbows. My grandpa volunteered at local stores as a very genuine Santa Claus and drove the zoo train for many years. My friends would tell me how lucky I was to have my grandma and grandpa next door. My friends always called my grandparents granny and grandpa. They loved all the kids.
So, this concept of “multi-generation living” is what I know. I know first hand what a difference having two sets of parents living in my home made in my life. Two loving sets of parents who were there for you, setting you straight, setting an example, holding you accountable and reinforcing right and wrong. Living in our single family home feels quite strange. It feels like I’m away at camp and I never am going home. Having grandparents living far enough away that you have to drive or call is so foreign to me. It feels so strange and wrong. I keep looking to move, not because there is anything wrong with our house, but because I would like to live again in a multi-generational home. I have found several homes lately that offer dual living. I want that. I could care less about how fancy, how big, how modern, how many bathrooms or the year it was built. It is not that I want more help with my boys because I have passed that stage. They are more independent now. It is truly for the lifestyle and camaraderie you get from living with the mixed wisdom of multi-generations under one roof facing life and all the challenges together, every day, every storm and every celebration.
Grandmas will often take the tantrum ridden little one off your hands and straighten them up without batting an eye. Sometimes they feed them chocolate cake before dinner to stop them from crying. I like that, even though it blew my mind that giving chocolate cake to end a tantrum is quite counter intuitive to discipline. Grandmothers can get away with it and the child adores them like they were the best person in the entire world. Grandparents can put the fear into a sassy teen by asking a simple question followed by a long pause. Suddenly, the point is driven home that “they know” and you best knock that off and now. I like that too. When you live in a multi- generational home, this happens daily as things arise, not just on a phone call or visit. Okay, and we did fight, living in an extended family. We did tell each other to “stuff it” or “shut your mouth”, but we always forgave, apologized and moved on. My grandfather once, in a fit of angry feelings, announced he was moving to Mexico and we all burst out laughing, including him. Mostly because he didn’t care much for Mexican cuisine and then we imagined what he would look like in a sombrero. We were all nuts fallen from the same tree, but quite happy to be facing life together.
My grandparents lived long and full lives. They were surrounded by love and they were the matriarch and patriarch of our family. It seems to me that their happiness and contentment about how we lived together helped to make their very long, active and healthy retirement so enjoyable and so full of life. It was a life lesson about caring for your loved ones to the end. I saw courage, Faith, love and cohesiveness on a daily basis in our home. I saw people who could disagree and settle matters in a family meeting in one of our living rooms or at our dining room table. There were never grudges or arguments that lasted longer than 15 minutes.
So, I continue my daily life, with the disconnected lifestyle we are living, feeling like I’m walking a marathon with shoes that are two sizes too small. We call, we have visits, my boys ask continuously when grandma and grandpa are going to come stay for a while. They miss my brother’s family who lives in Colorado.
I am hard wired for togetherness. It is part of my brain chemistry to cling to family, to care for loved ones, to absorb the words and wisdom of another and to go about life with the wisdom and charm of those older than myself. It has been programmed and hard wired into every fiber of me.
I will gladly care for my parents until the end. I watched my mother and dad care for my grandparents and vise versa. I hope I can provide the same. Meanwhile, I keep looking for a multi-generational home for our future blended family. Don’t be too surprised if one day we pick up and move. Now you know why.