Overcoming (The Great) Depression in a Multi-Generational Household

My maternal grandfather was a young boy during The Great Depression. Many of his extended family members, uncles and aunts, were out of work for long periods of time during this historic economic downturn. My grandfather’s father, however, was fortunate enough to maintain a good, steady job with the phone company throughout. Growing up, my grandfather’s home became a place for family to stay when they were out of work and had nowhere to go. Between his parents, his brother, and various aunts, uncles, and cousins, their house was always full.

When my grandfather tells me this story, he always goes on to say that his peers, even later in life, would comment that this situation must have been difficult to grow up in. Having so many personalities around and so many mouths to feed must not have been easy. “I don’t know if it was difficult or not,” he says, “because it was all I knew. That’s just the way it was. One thing I know for sure, though, is that there was not a moment that went by when I did not know that I was loved by somebody.”

About two years after my wife and I got married, we helped her sister sponsor their parents to come here from Cambodia. Since I was the primary earner, their parents had to live in our home when they came here because the immigration department wanted to be sure that they would be cared for without having to rely on government services for support. For years after they moved here, people would always comment to me, “Oh, that must be so difficult” or “you are a good man for doing that.” “Not really,” I would say. “I did not have to help to bring them to The United States nor did I have to honor my agreement that they would stay in our home, but I wanted to.” Now we have a young daughter and we all still live together. Between myself, my wife, my sister-in-law, and my wife’s parents, my daughter does not appear to wonder for a moment whether or not she is loved by somebody.

 Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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