There’s no place like home
February 5, 2015 § 10 Comments
I was recently back in the town where I grew up, visiting my parents, and my younger daughter asked me to show her the house I’d grown up in.
So we took a drive past the house and continued up the long, straight road past my primary school on the right hand side, right next to the Methodist Church where I attended Girl Guides. Then we drove on to my high school, exactly a kilometre from our front gate.
As we cruised through the suburb, I pointed out where the Scary Dog had lived – the one with yellow eyes, the one that terrified five-year-old me as I trudged to school with my brown suitcase, its metal handle digging into my small hands. I showed them the place of my greatest ignominy, where I tumbled off my bicycle as a teenager and landed, legs in the air, in the middle of the road right in front of the school gates. I showed them the verandah outside my Grade 1 classroom – or Sub A as it was called back then. And I showed them the verandah outside the woodwork classrooms, where I hung out in my final year of high school, a lone girl in a garrulous group of boys.
But what I really wanted to do was to go back to my house, to number 28, knock on the door and ask the people who lived there now if I could wander around. I wanted to see if the loquat tree still bore its yellow apricot-like fruits; if the piece of cement next to the pool still bears my hand print and those of my brother, my sister. I wanted to look for my mother’s short, broad footprint next to the bench she built on the side of the house.
I wanted to know if the pine, louvre-doored built-in cupboards that divided my sister’s room and mine were still there – cupboards my father built with the help of a friend, that turned a former single garage into two lovely bedrooms, and which looked as professional as any carpenter’s work.
I wanted to know if the plaster in the passage and the study and the lounge was still knobbly and rough and painted with shiny enamel – all the rage in the ’70s and ’80s. And I wondered if they’d kept the long, wide cement driveway, parts of which I helped my father to throw, mixing the cement with a spade making that satisfying shuck-shuck-shuck noise to ensure it was the right texture. The same driveway where I taught myself to ride my first bicycle, aged nine.
Is my mother’s rose garden still there, the one she tended in a windy climate not suited to rose-growing? Does the wooden fence still enclose the pool? And what about the Wendy House, the one my dad built out of an old packing case and a window from a Mini, and which stood next to the sandpit – a huge tractor tyre he brought home from work. Does any shred of them remain? Does the pear tree still bear fruit that’s inedible unless you stew it for a very long time?
And then I realised that none of those things are likely to be there anymore. Because although it’s my house, it’s not my home anymore. It’s just a geographical marker of my memories, and stepping over the threshold would only bring disappointment. Other people are making new memories in that shell, and nothing inside is likely to live up to what I remember.
So I’ll go back and drive around the neighbourhood again, in all likelihood. I’ll point out where the bearded woman lived around the corner, and I’ll remember the house whose verge grass was so soft and plush that I’d walk that way just to feel it give way beneath my school shoes.
But I won’t ever knock on that door and ask the people who live there if I can have a look around. I’ll just remember, and smile, and keep on driving.