There has to be a trigger to open the floodgates of memory, and in this case it was an article by Philip Oltermann on the Guardian website entitled “Germany’s ‘multigeneration houses’ could solve two problems for Britain”
In it there was a phrase that was remarkably similar to an idea, (Rent a Gran), that I had written about in one of my own articles, “Divide and Conquer“.
When I look back on my own childhood, it was always a “red-letter day” when my parents announced that we were going to visit Uncle Ron and Aunt Grace, for we would also see our only surviving grandparent, my mother’s mother.
Apart from that, there were two cousins to play with, and a whole host of new adventures and places to explore, one of them being a so-called “bottomless pit” which never failed to instill awe in us kids. That, and stories of bears in the woods, were enough to ensure that the visit was certain to be exciting, one way or another.
Of course, getting separated from my family in some department store in the middle of Loughborough was not something I had reckoned with, and something I never wished to be repeated. For a small child, it was a terrifying experience.
One day, my parents announced that Nan would be moving from Uncle Ron’s, and coming to stay with us. And so began the happiest part of my childhood.
Crippled with arthritis from the age of eighteen, and completely deaf as an additional burden, my Nan was wonderful. She was always someone I could turn to, and, as she could lipread, we were never stumped for communication. Never complaining, she was the most serene person I have ever known.
After 7 years, the fateful day came when my parents announced that my Nan would have to leave us. The house was simply not big enough to accommodate 3 growing boys, their parents, and their grandmother. It is difficult to describe what we felt about that – devastated, heartbroken, perhaps ‘lost’, as a gaping hole was about to be rent in our lives. Despite our desperate pleading, there was no changing the facts. We couldn’t all fit in the same house any longer.
I was one of the lucky ones, that much is clear. I had the good fortune to know the steadying influence of a grandparent. For those of us that have never experienced that there is something very important that they have missed out on, and their upbringing can never be described as “balanced” as a result.
My own experience in Germany bears this out. One day I had the good fortune to visit a family in a wine-growing area not too far from Frankfurt (am Main). The family lived in a three-story house, and three generations lived under the same roof. If I had to use a single word to describe what I felt during that visit, it would have to be “Harmony”.