Saturday, November 13, 2010
And it's done. After a mammoth month, my mother is happily ensconsed in her retirement villa and the family home now sits empty on a hill in Montrose. Well, it has always sat on a hill in Montrose but the empty bit is something very new. And so was the feeling, a sort of fidgety panic, thick with nostalgia, which framed that last day. At times lightening the mood, as we made jokes about the peeling wallpaper and cracking cornices, and then weighing down recollections with a mucousy depth that tripped over words and created gaps in sentences that hung, unfinished, until they simply faded away.
Once 53 years worth of possessions were gone, donated or packed or moved or tumbled into a skip the week before, we walked through the house for one last time. Pausing in each room to embed ourselves within the past. Here were the bunks, once, where we older girls would wait impatiently - furious with the injustice - for the younger ones to fall asleep. Here is the last place I ever saw my father, alive, reaching out to touch his shoulder. Are you sure? And here is the passage, still echoing with our footsteps as we dashed from the sealed warmth of the lounge, hot water bottles clutched tight against our chests. Here is the lounge itself, complete with actual hearth, over which the stockings would hang at Christmas, and there's the door-jamb with the staggered height of seven grandchildren. Then the kitchen, the beating heart of the house, framing a million meals and conversations. The window-sill where the lizard eggs hatched, sending the tiny, slippery occupants diving into the soapy dishwater below. The table where my mother would sit, long after everyone had gone to bed, studying. And finally the washhouse with the back door, which everyone used as the front. The threshold glossy-smooth with our feet. Where my father would bring his leftover toast at dawn to feed the resident rabbit, which would hop down the backyard, past the swimming-pool, and the lemon tree, and the towering gum-trees. Which the new owners, developers calculating costs and profit, have already ripped out, leaving an apocalypse of jagged stumps and a sour note that makes our parting even harder.
There is a sense of real grief to this farewell, as if the house is a family member and we are life support. And it stuns me, over and over without any less impact, to think that I'll never park in this driveway again, or walk up the path, or push open the back door to be greeted by my mother. Do you want a cup of coffee? Something to eat? Support? Security? Your childhood? I've left home many, many times before. But I never really knew what it meant.