We went to a wedding on Friday. It was nice. Mostly because we were able to palm the boy off onto the “dizzy ducks“. Our only disappointment was that they weren’t actual ducks, or even people dressed as ducks, but just normal humans in normal human clothing. They weren’t even dizzy. Just nice non-dizzy normal humans with lots of toys and a TV. They looked after him for 3 blissful hours and he had a lovely time, apparently. Meanwhile, we also had a lovely time in conversation- yes actual conversation – with some grown-ups.
Sat among our table for the wedding breakfast were older relatives of the groom. One of the aunts told us she was one of 15 growing up in her family. Obviously fascinated by how this worked in practice, we bombarded her with questions.
She explained that she lived in Ireland for most of her childhood in an average sized house and spent most of the time playing barefoot outdoors. When they left the village and moved to Harrow, North London, in 1960, she was 15. The family moved into a 3 bedroom house. At this point there were 12 of them living at home (plus the parents). There was a small kitchen, a living room and what would have been the dining room, but this was used as an extra bedroom. Her parents slept in 1 room (always with a baby), there was a boys’ room, a girls’ room and the youngest boys slept in the dinig room. They didn’t have bunk beds or anything fancy like that, they all snuggled into one big bed. She told us how they used to say their prayers together every night and then lie in bed and sing. She remembered fondly how warm and cosy it was in the winter, especially as they had no heating.
Her memories of her childhood were overwhelmingly positive, the negatives that she recalled were mostly about other people’s prejudice about their lifestyle. Once they moved to London people asked questions. They weren’t liked by everyone, partly because they were Irish and partly because there were so many of them. People asked her about their financial situation, wondering if they were “scroungers” (they weren’t) and desperately wanted to know if they owned their house (they did), privately rented, or if they were council tenants. She didn’t know the answers, why would she? She was 15. In any case what business was it of theirs? Up until this point she had never thought of her family life as anything other than normal. She told us that the other thing she worried about was inviting friends over, after she had been to theirs and seen their comparatively less crowded homes. It turned out that she worried for nothing, as her friends told her they loved coming over as it was so relaxed.
Above all, she remembers that everyone in the family was fed and everyone was happy. She admits that they quarreled at times, but said that she feels their physical closeness led to an emotional closeness and to this day, they still remain a very close family. For me, this is the nicest thing about this story- not just that they didn’t suffer as a consequence of living somewhere crowded and having to share bedrooms, but that they might have actually benefited from it.
Did you grow up in a small home, or a home where there were lots of family members? What was your experience? Comment below or take part in our Facebook group forum here.