Thursday, August 6, 2009

My Not-So-Typical Growing Up Years

My growing up was not typical. It was my normal, so it never struck me as odd. Even when we'd laugh or talk about all the craziness that was always a part of my household, it was still simply my life -- my normal.

And, certainly some things were typical (or at least what should be typical -- in a good world). I played with siblings and neighbors, we went on family vacations (mostly to Bear Lake -- though I have vivid memories of a trip to Yellowstone and one to California), I was fed and clothed and cared for (though, perhaps I ran about the neighborhood a little more barefoot and ragga muffin looking than some of my friends' parents would have allowed), and most of all, I was loved -- there was never any doubt of that. I knew my parents somehow had me as a top priority and would drop anything on a second's notice if I needed.

It has only been recently, as I've grown accustomed to having a home and family all my own and realized how I like order and routine, that the uniqueness of my growing up years has really struck me as . . . well . . . just that -- unique. With that realization, the remarkableness of my parent's relaxed, open and flexible nature has truly begun to awe me.

First off, I grew up with ten other siblings in the house. One younger and nine of them older. True, with seven siblings who eventually served 1 1/2 to 2 year missions for our church, someone (pretty much from the time I was born) was always on a mission; and it wasn't long before the older siblings were getting married. This didn't necessarily decrease the number of individuals in our home, however, because during the rest of my growing up years and far beyond the time that I married, some married sibling or other (along with whatever children they'd collected by that time) lived in the "Grandfather Thatcher" apartment in our basement (in fact, Mike and I lived there with our own kids for several months). First it was Mark and then Tony. Soon Amy and then Tony again. My older siblings often seemed more like very close uncles and their kids like my younger siblings. I loved growing up with all of these little nieces and nephews in my home clamoring for my attention.


That alone made for quite a bustling household. I should also add that for some reason our house was one of the houses where friends congregated. I'm not sure why. There certainly weren't fun treats around to draw them in (in fact, we often lament growing up on powdered milk and laugh about my mom saying, "There's plenty of bread and butter," anytime we whined of wanting something to eat).

Perhaps it was the open and relaxed nature of a house full of so many people coming and going. Perhaps it was the spirit of the place, or, most likely, it was the fact that with so many siblings each bringing their own friends, it made for a nice socializing place where there was always bound to be something afoot. This might be proven by the fact that my own best friends know and are friends with many of my siblings' friends.


But, let's move on to who else lived at my house beyond that. When I was still quite young, my parent's heard of refugees coming to America. Apparently some families were so large that it was hard to accommodate them with out having to split them up. Having a large family herself, this made my mother heart sick, so what did she do? Well, she opened our already crowded home to TWO large refugee families. One Cambodian and one Laotian. They lived with us for months as they tried to find employment and housing, etc. I remember the gifts or fruit baskets they would bring to my parents each Christmas for years afterwards. There were also two single Vietnamese refugees. Vibol Tiem and Giang Hong. Giang (pronounced Yang) lived with us for I don't know how many years. He never learned to speak super English and would come and go quietly. He generally just slept happily in a sleeping bag in our basement family room. Having Giang there never seemed the least bit odd to any of us either. It just seemed a part of the normal daily course of things to see Giang quietly preparing himself a little Top Ramen and greeting us by name in his poor English.

We still aren't done. If ever anyone needed a place to stay, it was the open doors of my parent's home they came to. No one ever seemed to question whether or not it would be convenient or stressful for a friend to come live temporarily with us should the need arise (and somehow it often did). I honestly don't recall how several of the people came to live with us at all. There was my brother's friend Josh who lived with us for years (even after my brother was married and living far away), there was Kelly (my sister's best friend) who stayed just for a Summer while their new home was being finished. And then there was everything in between. I recall Mike Valear, Nancy Porter, Jason, Tami, and Chuck all staying for various lengths of time and for various reasons. I have probably forgotten some altogether (or simply neglected to mention those who only stayed for a week or so) but there they were -- just some of the daily background of my carefree little world. One particular Summer (shortly after my senior year of high school), two married siblings with kids were temporarily living with us as well as a family friend. It was so crowded that I didn't particularly have my own bed but just slept each night wherever my fancy took me -- on the deck, in the living room, in my dad's office. Oddly, that Summer is one of my fondest to look back on.

As I said, it is only now, that these living arrangements strike me as a-typical. What mostly amazes me is the generosity of my parents. Now that I have my own home and family, I can't imagine the stress it would place upon me to have even one extra soul living in my home. I would be tense about my routine being messed up, stressed about them feeling relaxed enough to eat when they wished, worried about making decent meals, worried about keeping order in my home. I would fret endlessly over the influence all these different friends might have on my children and worry about every possible situation, but my parent's must have just been blessed for their goodness because even the very oddest of friends that lived with us just seemed to add a merriment and little more shaking of heads in laughter to our household.

It is odd that I have hardly considered how much growing up in a home filled with so many varying needs, personalities and interests might have affected my own nature. I do know that I was painfully shy as a child. My dad used to worry a great deal over how I would cope with life out there in the real world, but I think those who know me now would find it difficult to believe that had ever been the case. Perhaps this large and wild home helped me (or maybe forced me) to overcome that tendency? I like to think that I can take different personalities -- and even eccentricities with a grain of salt and even enjoy them. I recall a co-worker at my first "real" job out of college conjecturing that I must have grown up with a lot of brothers because there was no other way to explain how I could joke and take teasing so naturally. If he only knew.

In any case, I am indeed grateful for the strange and enjoyable years of growing up as one of the many lucky ones to have lived under the loving roof of my amazing parents. I can hardly believe they were able to cope with it all, but I am exceedingly thankful for whatever experiences or insights it gave me as well as for the character traits it may have caused me to develop. But mostly, right now, I just feel happy about all of the interesting and fun memories it has provided for me. Thanks Mom and Dad for never saying, "That simply won't work," to all of the things so many (myself included) would have . . . I guess not least of all, for having a tenth child (and yes an eleventh because where would we be with out that one too?). What remarkable people and how many lives you have not simply influenced, but dug in with firm and practical resolve to truly help despite any inconvenience or difficulty.

18 comments:

Mary Elizabeth Liberty said...

Okay, I love this! Your parents are legend.

can I put a link to your blog on my sidebar?

and am wondering if I should put you in the friends category or the family one?

perhaps I need a new category for family of family that I wish I was better friends with.

Nancy said...

Mary, think how cool I would feel if I was in a special sidebar category of, "family of family that I wish I was better friends with"!!

But, can't we be family?? I only have family on my sidebar because I kept worrying I was forgetting to add some friend or other and maybe offending them . . .so if we can be family then I can add Miss Super Cool Smart Genetecist (I think??) Mary to mine!!

Tia Juana said...

Wowser! And I was having a hard time with living in a cabin with 50 people for 3 days.

Hmmmm....I wonder if I would have become a more easy going gal had I had what you had. Company is stressful and I always feel like I need to be in control of things and company doesn't lend itself to much control. I also like things well planned. Hearing all of this, I am once again, in awe of your mother!

Liz said...

I know I never lived at you house, but I might as well have. I slept over so often and stayed till all hours of the night when I didn't. We all liked to congregate at your house because it was the closest thing to the celestial kingdom, or so we said in high school. I think we mostly just felt good while we were there and we laughed so much we always wanted to come back for more. I was super shy too until I spent enough time at your house and was forced to talk with so many people that I finally got over it. I never did get over my phone-a-phobia though and that is due to your parents friend I think her name was Leah. She played a mean joke when I answered your parent's phone once. I still hate phones.

Amy said...

Oh Nancy - I am so tired but had to read your post...love it..and totally true..but please, please, Liz what in the world did Leah do to scare you of phones...I must know before I can sleep at all! Oh how I wish I knew where Yang was or how he is doing. He was always so shy, sweet and respectful when we came over (after marriage) and he knew our kids names too. Oh dear, now I want to cry because what if he is homeless or something? We should try to find him.....

Amy said...

What in the world??? I am not Amy but Kathy...why are these comments to you and Liz saying they are from Amy...has Leah cursed us all now??? KATHY

Anonymous said...

I believe I have found myself...whew....Kathy

Kit J said...

I give up, now am I not only myself but just anonymous...well great post and goodnight...KATHY

Perla said...

fantastic post and gave me some good things to think about myself having grown up by your side. it is crazy. how did mom do it? and the refugee thing--i am not sure if i am correct but i think the deal was that they were all in these horrible refugee camps and could only get visas to come to the us if a family sponsored them and said they could actually live with them and would help them transition. at least i think that was the story. there was all kinds of horror going on in that part of the world at the time.

And yes...where is Giang Hong? At least for a long time he would still stop by to check for mail and we could see how he was doing. But what now? Make Chris find him.

Marzer said...

That is awesome! Love it. And - it speaks so much of you - helping me to see a little more clearly of why you are the way you are - and it's great. You and your family continue to amaze me. I hope I can be like all of you - in some little way - someday. It is my goal. Perhaps I will be able to take notes - gaining some pearls when I visit on Sunday. Woo-hoo! I'm so excited. I just wish that I could see everyone else too - Kathy, Megs, Shannon, Priscilla. . . .Love all of you!

Kelly said...

Nancy, Nancy, Nancy, that was such a great post. Can't we all just have one more sleepover at the house for old time's sake?

It was so much fun and your parents are amazing. I too wish that I could be more like them. I want to be welcoming and generous, instead I am more like hey don't eat that out of the kitchen and I walk around and nervously pick up discarded wrappers and such because I can not relax when people are around. That is bad because I so want people to stop by (hint hint), I want to be like your parents, I want my home to be open and fun (as long as my furniture doesn't get ruined, Ha, ha).

Your parents definitely have their priorities straight, someday I can only hope to be remotely close to what they are.

I must add that Yang was awesome, especially when we were playing hide and seek and he was asleep on the floor or when we were playing pool or when we were just being loud and crazy (with our treats we purchased at the store) when he was trying to sleep, he had patience.

Kelly said...

Oh by the way, what in the crap is that picture of you and Shannon holding up, who's hair? Is that Chris? Anyway what in the world is Shannon wearing? And why are you mysteriously saying "Shhh"? That picture is a classic, I wish you would post the pipe cleaner picture too, I was just talking about it last night. That too is a classic!

Jill said...

It seems strange to me as I struggle with four kids but some couples are just cut out for having that many kids and doing it well. Like a world class athlete or Bill Gates or Mozart, your parents are genius parents. The rest of us can just watch people like that and try to apply some of it to our own little families while just being in complete awe. How lucky to grow up the way you did. No wonder you are such an amazing person.

Ashley said...

I love you Nancy and all your posts. This one makes me very nostalgic and homesick somehow...I kind of just feel like crying because nothing like the old Polk's End has ever existed before or ever will again.

Gracie J said...

Wouldn't I be just a horribly, ungrateful friend if I didn't leave a comment about this particular post, seeing as how the Allred family did so much to raise me during my formative years when I was but a wee gigglomaniac? Thank goodness for Gordo and Sharon and their awesome example and their truly wonderful children, grand-children, etc. who were ever so accepting and always made me feel at home...particularly during tough streaks in my life. Love you Nanc and your extended family. Your reach has been far and powerful.

Krista said...

Wow! And I thought my house was crazy with visitors and boarders! Ha! (Right now my brother is living with us). Your parents sound like wonderful people and you make your family seem like a place anyone would want to be!

Amy said...

Nancy, just the most amazing post ever!! I love the way you write, I know I always say that, but then I will read something else and be struck again by the feelings you envoke whether it's making me laugh, or like now wanting to cry. I really should have appreciated our amazing home life even more!

Mugsy said...

Kelly Nancy was the saddest I have ever seen her in my entire life when we removed the pipe cleaners from her hair. There is no way in this world that picture will see the light of day again. SHe probably won't admit to it, but I think she has burned it.
But I loved that post Nanc. I love that you have those great pictures. That was a nice tribute and trip down memory lane.

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