Grandma lived with us when my sisters and I were growing up. That's definitely the way we would have phrased it. We didn't live with Grandma, she lived with us. She was an important and integral part of the family, to be sure, but she was clearly the extra adult rather than the person in charge.
Her downstairs bedroom was her special place, where she had family pictures on the walls, sat in her rocking chair with her crocheting, and kept her stash of Hershey bars that she shared with the little girls at snack time twice a day. (My two younger sisters learned to tell time by those candy bars—they knew exactly when the clock showed 10:00 and 3:00.)
Three generations sharing a house doesn't seem to be as common these days as it used to be. The fact that Grandma lived with us wasn't anything remarkable at the time. It may have been a bit unusual in one respect—the house we all lived in had been hers for more than 20 years before we moved in. After my grandfather was killed by a drunk driver, my parents moved to and later bought the farm where my mother had grown up.
As a kid, of course, I didn't pay much attention to any of this. Now, though, as a grandmother who has been widowed myself, I wonder. What was it like for Grandma, suddenly widowed at age 65, to step aside and turn her home over to her daughter? What was it like to become the third adult in the family, the backup disciplinarian, the supportive second in the house where she had been in charge? How hard must that have been?
I don't remember any conflict between my mother and my grandmother, any power struggles over rearranging furniture or arguments over whether to put up new wallpaper in the living room. I don't remember difficulties over discipline—while Grandma was somewhat indulgent with the two youngest, we four girls all knew that her word was just as much law as that of our parents. That game of playing one adult against another never did work at our house.
True, I tended to be an oblivious child whose nose was usually buried in a book rather than poking into someone else's business, so maybe I missed a few things. Maybe the arguments did take place, in low voices after the kids were in bed.
But I don't think so. I think my grandmother had the courage to step aside and relinquish her primary position willingly and with grace. I think my parents, in turn, treated her with love and respect. It can't have always been easy, but together they made it work for all of us.
It worked for more than 30 years. Grandma lived to be 97, only moving to a nursing home in the last few months of her life. All of them must have done something right.