The New Family on Walton’s Mountain

The New Family on Walton’s Mountain

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

The New Family on Walton’s Mountain

I had always dreamed of having a big family. I loved watching The Waltons on television during my childhood, and especially loved the part when the family bid each other a good night.

“Good night, John-Boy.”

“Good night, Elizabeth.”

“Good night, Grandma.”

The notion of multigenerations living within the same household fascinated me. I longed to come home from school and have a “Grandma Walton” to make me homemade cookies and help me with my homework.

Close to thirty years after the Waltons set up housekeeping on Walton’s Mountain, I am at long last living my dream. My friends think I’m crazy, but I am finding it to be a wonderful experience—for me, as well as for our five children.

It all happened quite by chance. My husband and I lived a busy life—as parents to five children, my husband owning his own business, and me running a business within our home. Weekdays were a barrage of shuttling children from dawn until well past dusk. Weekends found us in church and Sunday school, as well as completing a seemingly endless list of household tasks. Life was good. We were all very happy.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, my father-in-law suffered a mini-stroke and began a rapid decline. His health was poor. By December, he was in a nursing home. We bolstered my mother-in-law’s spirits and got her through the holidays. Life was a bit more chaotic, but we managed quite well. However, shortly after Christmas my mother-in-law become ill, too.

By January she was confined to a nursing home, although we were told her complications would eventually subside. By March she came to live with us.

“How can you find the time to do that?” surprised friends would ask.

“Isn’t it an awful lot of work?” others would insist.

“What do the kids think about this?”

I must admit, I was a bit astonished by their reactions. Everyone seemed to automatically assume that this sudden change in our lives was a negative one, and that our lives would be forever changed by it.

Things certainly have changed. However I have yet to discover the negatives in this situation. For starters, this is the life I dreamed of living. It doesn’t sound glamorous, or even particularly exciting, but it’s one that has appealed to me for decades. My mother-in-law is a wonderful addition to our household, and quite frankly, I hope she’s with us for a long time.

I guess you could say we were in an optimal point in our family life to endure such a lifestyle modifications. Our oldest son had an apartment. Our oldest daughter was away at her freshman year in college. We had a spare bedroom.

We did a bit of shuffling around to accommodate Grammie. It was decided that our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, would move into Judy’s (our college-age daughter) bedroom. Grammie would take Elizabeth’s room. It was closer to the bathroom, and nearer to our own room, should she need help in the night.

This was a smooth transition, as a nine-year old moving into her eighteen-year-old sister’s bedroom is deemed “pretty cool.” Some of the other transitions weren’t quite as smooth, such as scheduling showers and bath times. Grammie needed the bathroom frequently, and was automatically given first dibs on the option to use the bathroom. Grammie also has an oxygen tank for round-the-clock use, and our home is filled with oxygen lines. That was a slight problem at first, but we quickly convinced the dog that chewing on them wasn’t an option.

Mealtime in our home has always been an ordeal. With five kids, a couple of friends, plus the adults in the family, there were very few evenings when I fed fewer than eight people. Most nights there were ten. Adding one more to our table was a breeze. And adding one who enjoyed and praised my meals was a treasure!

I still believe to this very day that the addition of Grammie to our household has far more benefits than complications. I am thrilled to pieces for our children. They are learning firsthand the fine art of compassion for the elderly. They are learning patience and tolerance, too. I am so proud when I observe them talking slowly and clearly so that Grammie can understand them, and I am proud of how my youngest boy always asks Grammie first, before he takes his turn in the bathroom.

“Grammie, do you need the bathroom?” Jonathan will ask. “I’m going to take a shower now if you’re all set.”

He’s seven.

Grammie, on the other hand, is a joy. I have never met a more appreciative person in my life. She is grateful for her meals, her room and the company she now has twenty-four hours a day. And I am thrilled to get to know the woman who gave me my precious husband. It has been a bonding experience based on gratitude, respect and love. I look upon caring for her as a privilege, and I enjoy the time I spend with her.

We may not be living on the top of a mountain. And we don’t grow our own food or sew our own clothes. I’m not nearly creative enough for that. However when we go to bed at night, I feel doubly blessed. No, we’re not the Waltons. In fact we’re a long, long way from reaching an ideal such as that.

But when our lights go out at night (probably much later than the Waltons’ lights did!) I whisper a prayer of thanks for the many loved ones underneath our roof. And we typically say our good nights in the kitchen, or while tucking a child into bed. However late at night, when I’m ready to fall asleep, I smile. And I am able to convince myself that the sounds I hear are merely those of my loving family and their appreciation for one another.

“Good night, Jonathan.”

“Good night, Elizabeth.”

“Good night, Jim.”

“Good night, Grammie.”

And with that I close my eyes in peaceful respite.

Kimberly Ripley

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