Nothing says home quite like a white picket fence, and Jacqueline Dowdy’s got one surrounding her light green triple-decker. Her grandparents bought the place more than 40 years ago. Back then, they lived on the first floor.
“My parents lived on this floor, this is the apartment I grew up in,” says Dowdy. “And I had an aunt, one of my mother’s younger sisters, who lived on the third floor.”
That’s right, Jacqueline Dowdy is raising her family in the same second floor apartment she grew up in. Dowdy says she always knew she’d return. She bought the home a while ago, and after her grandparents died, she moved her parents down to the first floor, and set her family up on the second floor, and her sister and her family live on the third floor.
It’s dinner time, a busy time for Dowdy who cooks for everyone on the first and second floors. The meal includes a Woonsocket specialty of beef and peppers known as “dynamite.”
“Last night we had dynamite and my girls love dynamite so they’re going to have leftovers and I’m going to fry some chicken and some homemade gravy and some rice and salad and corn on the cob for the folks downstairs,” says Dowdy.
Sitting at the kitchen table, eight-year-old Ny-Asiah squirms in her chair, trying to concentrate on homework. She loves that she can just run downstairs and be with her grandma. “It’s actually very fun living with my grandma, cuz I like to help her and when we go to choir rehearsal she prays for us and she helps us sing,” she says.
Ten-year-old Genesis says when she’s a little older she wants her grandma to teach her how to sew and knit. The two girls laugh at the idea of grandma listening to their music or trying to learn computers. But as Dowdy explains, grandma is there for the girls in other ways.
“No matter how cold it is, no matter how wet it is, she puts on her coat and her shoes and she accompanies them to church every Friday night for choir rehearsal,” says Dowdy. Of the two, it’s eight-year-old Ny-Asiah who spends the most time downstairs.
“She spends a lot of time with grandma because grandma gives her snacks all the time when she probably shouldn’t,” says Dowdy, “so she probably spends the most time with grandma.”
“Yeah, she comes in from school and she say, ‘can I have snack?’ I say whatever you find go get it,” says 79-year-old Ethel Dowdy.
Dowdy’s family migrated to Rhode Island from South Carolina. It was a large family of 16, so she’s used to living around lots of people. Other family members return home for reunions and celebrations. She’s convinced that living in the same house has kept her family close and she hopes her granddaughters will feel a similar bond. So she spends as much time with them as she can, pulling them close and dishing out advice: “That they need to go to school, listen to the teacher, get an education, listen to their parents, and be good to each other. And they won’t have problems when they grow up.”
Sitting nearby, Ny-Asiah smiles, she’s heard all of this before. Back upstairs, mom, Jacqueline Dowdy, has heard it all too, when she was a kid. She’s touched that her girls are getting the same advice she did. And if Dowdy gets her way, someday she will be the grandma downstairs dispensing advice.
“I’m hoping that I get to the point where they have to move me on the first floor, and they will do for me what I do for her,” says Dowdy. “Honestly, I really, really do.”
Families for decades have filled triple-deckers across the state. And they there’s a rhythm that the Dowdy family followed: the first generation buys the home and lives on the first floor, the next generation starts a family and move into the second floor and so on. Part of this pattern includes leaving the triple-decker, it’s a sign that the family has made it. But Jacquelin Dowdy’s not leaving her triple-decker. Moving future generations of Dowdy’s up and down the stairs – that’s her idea of success.
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You can find all of the stories in this series here: The Silver Boom: Aging in Rhode Island
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