Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Remembering Home

For months now I've been haunted by a house I haven't lived in for twenty years. How haunted? Haunted enough to google it, to drive forty minutes out of my way to sit out front in my car and stare at it, and to have it inhabit my dreams night after night. If it were for sale, I'd probably try to persuade my husband we need to buy it. It wasn't a particularly lovely house. It was oriented south into darkness; the kitchen was tiny and strikingly ugly, with bright green cupboards and burnt orange carpet tiles; the garden was nothing much at all. But for the first fourteen years of my life, it was the house we returned to each time my parents moved for work; it was our home.

I feel like my daughters should experience life in this house. I'm actually quite frantic that they do. I want them to know how ugly the kitchen was; to lock themselves out and remove the louvred windows and climb in the kitchen window past the recipe books; to open the preserves cupboard in the dark hall and gaze at the rows of jams and plum sauce, and inhale the scent of cloves. I want them to lie on the nubbly grass green carpet in the study and look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary there; and hide in the garage full of cobwebs and climb the jacaranda tree and race leaves down the concrete gutter which ran along the side of the house.

Of course, that house doesn't exist anymore. It looks like it always did from the facade, but a little while ago, during an especially acute fit of nostalgia, I dropped in. Incredibly generous people that they are, the current owners offered me a cup of tea and we sat and talked about the area, the way we remember things, and how everything has changed; and I admired what they'd done with the place.

But I can't have my house back. It's been renovated, and what I remember is largely gone. Instead, I'll have to tell my children stories.

Stories about my father, who got up at six every morning to fire up the coal hot water heater. My father hated a cold shower more than anything in the world, so day after day he would build an enormous coal fire in the boiler, then wash his sooty hands and forearms with yellow soap in the old laundry trough; day after day the hot water would boil over and shriek and spit jets of steaming water onto the garage roof and there would be steam in the pipes and no shower for anyone. 'Joooo-ohn!' my mother would yell as he sheepishly observed the overflow tank shaking and shuddering; and we'd all have to wait til it cooled down, anxious eyes on the clock, before we could bathe.

Stories about the freesias my parents removed from the side, hundreds of small sweetly scented flowers. One year, my mother held a campaign against environmental weeds, and freesias were suddenly taboo. So on hands and knees my parents dug up every little bulb, then mulched heavily and planted natives. The natives thrived in feathery loveliness, but how I missed the gentle fragrant flowers.

Stories about the neighbourhood kids, and the way we used to roam the street until dusk. We played cricket and catch and jump the chain; we played hide and seek and hit sticks and stones around the vacant lot behind the petrol station ; and when we weren't in the street itself, kids flowed between the houses.

Our lounge room had old wallpaper printed with weeping willows, and one year my parents scraped it off to reveal dark wood panelling instead. I preferred the weeping willows. The carpet was corrugated plum, and my sister once went for a run without her nappy and dropped little pellets all the way down the corridor; my mother ran behind her picking up each one with a tissue as I held my sides and shrieked with laughter.

Our bathroom door was the colour of pumpkin. I'd go in there just to gaze at the door and drink in colour.

I remember washing day, and hiding pegs in the sheets hanging from the old Hills Hoist; and afterwards, great piles of washing waiting to be folded or mended or ironed. What wasn't covered in washing was stacked high with books and papers and Things to Do; it was a messy crowded little place.

There is so much I want to tell my children. It's been over two decades since I last lived in that house, but for all the moves and changes in my life, it still feels like home.

But lately it occurs to me that the house we live in now is forming the same sorts of memories for my children as the house I grew up in formed for me. My kids don't need to live in the other house to experience home. They have a home, with its own quirks and hidden places and special trees and stories; and if I pull myself out of the past and take a slow look around, I can see that it is good.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this, thanks for sharing I feel all reminiscent now.


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