Of all the places for a conversation about roommates to emerge, I would have expected the Thanksgiving dinner table to be the least likely. Sometime between the request to pass the cranberry sauce and the cornbread stuffing, my Grandma reminded us of the importance of being thankful as she recounted memories of life in the 1930s on New York City’s Lower East Side.
In order to afford to live in the apartment near Katz’s Deli, her mother took in boarders. Her family made ends meet by surviving on the rent money. While she remembers very little about the guests in her home growing up, she vividly recalls the memories of her roommates as a young adult.
To make ends meet, my Grandma shared a three bedroom apartment with her two sisters and each of their husbands. Six people, one bathroom. They took turns cleaning. The day of my Grandma’s wedding, she was scrubbing the bathroom floor until her brother-in-law told her to stop.
“Times were tough,” she reminded me of her family history. She was from a working family. One of her first jobs paid fifty cents an hour folding clothes at a local department store. From their simple wages, each couple could barely fill a shelf in the refrigerator. They pooled together funds for many of their meals.
Sure, there were times they wanted to yell at each other. But, they were family, living together, and making it work. I wonder how much has life really changed since then or are we just creating new friend families in their place?