Sarah K. is the grandmother of Ellen Dudley, todays guest blogger and board member at Sharing Housing Inc. Ellen tells the story of how Sarah K. helped her family, when Ellen was a child and then as a single mother. It is clear that Sarah K. had the benefits of seniors who sharing housing. Ellen found that living with her grandmother was great and she got to spend time with an amazing woman!
My grandmother, Sarah Kitchin Dudley, is what I would call a Sharing Housing pioneer. In the 1960’s she returned from working in Florida to Massachusetts. She came back to look after her three grieving grandchildren and her very mixed-up son who had lost their mother and wife in the summer of 1961. Before my grandmother came back to Massachusetts our little family had been thrown from pillar to post. Bless my maternal aunts and uncles who took us in when required. My grandmother, Sarah K, as we fondly called her, made it so that our little family could stay together. And kept us together thereafter.
Our house was so tiny—there was no space there for her to have a room with us. Sarah K. found housing through word of mouth with Mrs. Knight, a widow in her 80’s who lived in the town center. Every night after seeing us kids through our homework and dinner and my father’s return from work she went to Mrs. Knight’s house. It was an old New England Cape style house where she had her own room. Mrs. Knight would go around in the evening shutting the curtains as she intoned “Don’t want any burglars…” although it never made sense to me how closed curtains could or would stop the burglars. At night, I could imagine my grandmother watching TV with Mrs. Knight in the evenings while we did the same at our house several miles down the road
When we went grocery shopping for our house, we shopped for Mrs. Knight as well. The extra T.P. and cleaning products we bought were for “the house.” We understood that Sarah K. bought for the house because Mrs. Knight didn’t have a car. Her house was catty-corner to the little general store where she got the simple things although she didn’t want to do it that much because of the expense. Sarah K. always paid her rent near the 3rd of the month because that’s the day the Social Security checks came out. I can’t remember where she got her check in those days, but she did, and she budgeted the money. Many years later, Sarah K. came to live with me after my daughter, Laura, was born.
Living With Grandparents
Sarah K. came to live with me as I was divorcing, and my daughter was two years old. We lived together for six years, from that time until she was eight. We lived right next door to where I grew up. I rented the house that belonged to our next door neighbors and got a job working for Digital Computers as a Field Service rep. Often, I needed to work late. Sarah K,. Laura’s great-grandmother, created a stable home during my daughter’s early years. I can remember coming home from work in the late afternoon and settling in on the couch with Laura to watch Sesame Street and The Electric Company. My child was read to a great deal and watched only educational TV thanks to Sarah K. and her experience as a teacher.
In those years in Harvard, Massachusetts we shared rent, utilities, groceries, child care, household chores, all of it. I was glad to have it that way. I made a grave error when I moved to New Hampshire for a boyfriend and took Laura with me. I was stupid to give her up for a boyfriend who didn’t last, and she might well have died that year with or without me, but I will never know. Many times have I wished she was here so I could ask her pertinent questions. Especially in this past year, since she had been a teacher in a one-room school in Maine as a young woman, and lived through the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19. And I will be sorry for as long as I last. Sharing housing was great for me. I would happily do it again. My grandmother taught me how.
Grandparents helping out in the raising of their grandchildren is an ancient practice and makes complete sense. In fact, in the United States, according to an AARP report, currently 11% of grandparents live with their grandchildren It is one type of shared housing. The adaptation that Sarah K. makes in Ellen’s early years of finding another place to sleep in an interesting solution. I’m imagining that it might have been nice for her to leave her caretaking role and have her evenings to herself.
Are you a grandparents living with grandchildren? How is it? Could you see yourself living with other members of your family in your generation or different generations? Tell us about it in the comments.
Check out these other articles about sharing housing with family: When Your Children Are Your Housemates: Return of the Boomerang Kids, CoAbode: Single Mothers House Sharing