Remember that famous 1970s television series about the Depression-era family living in the Virginia mountains? When I was a kid, I loathed that show.
My Grandma Iva wanted us to watch television together. So there I sat, pretending to pay attention to the TV screen in my beanbag chair, often praying the power would go off. I put headphones on one night, and never got them back from her.
“This is family time young lady,” she said as she pulled them off my head.
Every time the show ended with the family saying goodnight to everyone as they shut off the lights in the two-story home: It made my skin crawl a little bit as I fought off a nasty acidic taste in my mouth.
“Night John Boy,” Someone in the cast would finally chirp at the end.
“Yep, I’d tell him goodnight with a stick,” I’d ruminate quietly while my grandma would always say to Papo, “That’s such a good, wholesome show. They should make more programs like that.”
In our family there was only my sister and myself — our stepbrother lived in Tennessee — along with our parents at our home. My grandparents and a great-aunt/uncle duo also lived in Carbon, another great-aunt/uncle duo lived in Attica while some cousins lived in Vigo County.
My father’s family lived in Tennessee, and we didn’t get to travel there that often.
So my little micro family wasn’t anything like the Waltons. I wasn’t planning to live in a big house with a bunch of people. A conventional life — married with two kids and a cat —was the path for me.
Anyway, communal living was for hippies, or at least that’s what my Papo and the media said. During the late 1960s into the 1970s communes were depicted as places where people dropped out of society, into the arms of Mother Nature and messy, often drug-infused lifestyles.
Fast forward some 40 years and lots of people are living communally in the year 2017.
It’s hard to find many parents suffering from the empty-nest syndrome when so many grown children, often with children of their own, are returning home for a multitude of reasons. Siblings, cousins, along with a couple of best friends or significant others, are moving in together. Families are taking in other elderly family members, while basements, attics or other available space in their homes are being cleaned out to make way for friends needing a place to stay. It’s not unusual to hear of 6-8 people living in a two-bedroom home, more if the house is larger or there’s children involved.
I’ve even heard stories about families pitching tents in the backyard during the summer months to accommodate large households. Often the adults live outside while children stay in the home.
Some continue to sleep in the tents, RVs, vans and cars as winter arrives, going inside during the daytime to bathe and eat.
People who live in these types of scenarios usually don’t want to share the circumstances with anyone, they have their pride. They work at what they can find, they pay their bills with what little they have and they struggle in silence most of the time, hoping life will get better.
I understand the Waltons now, because — you know if you’ve read this column before — at one time I lived with 19 people in a two-story house. It was mostly street kids; teenagers who didn’t have the best of living conditions to go home to. Myself and my husband, my son and daughter and my dad were the only blood relations in the house. The remaining group did have family members — three groups of siblings — and their friends. Although we didn’t have a “John Boy” to tell “goodnight” to, everyone said it before the lights went off.
Of course there were spats from time to time, but there was a rule: No one goes to bed angry. Which was followed up with rule #2: If you’ve got enough energy to be mad, you got enough energy to clean. Needless to say, the house was cluttered, but not dirty.
As hectic as it all was, there was laughter, caring and compassion as we became one family. We still are, even though so many have grown up to have their own families and homes. Some of them even take in others as they can afford to, paying forward the gift of family they experienced with us.
I’ve been asked many times, “How can so many people live in one house?”
Whenever a primary social group gathers together with the principal function to take care of each other, whether blood relation, selected family or friends, you form a family who loves you no matter what comes.
One Disney film “Lilo & Stitch” was watched countless times at our house, and the message of the film says it all.
“Ohana means family — no one gets left behind, and no one is ever forgotten.”