The builder has started work on my childhood home. The place is ancient, sagging, tumbling down. A ramshackle pile.
Dave and I spent last Saturday, in blazing heat, moving the entire contents into storage. Thankfully, my Mum had carefully wrapped and packed all her china and ornaments and keepsakes, so I wasn’t caught up in reminiscing. That is, until I found my Bunnykins mug in the kitchen cupboard. I remember sitting up at the old kitchen table, being finally old enough to use my precious china cup. I was given a weak, luke-warm tea and as I sipped I felt so special. I must have been 4 or 5.
The next day, with the packing all done and the house empty for the first time in more than 50 years, I took my Mum around to visit. She wandered the rooms, stopping and starting, touching the walls, staring along the hallway. She was full of emotion, and didn’t say much. What is there to say, really? At 81, the majority of her life was spent in this house. She and my father moved two toddlers into this house in the early 1960s, and then a newborn surprise almost a decade later. They raised us there, in the tiny old cottage, with much love, hardship and grief, and then grew old there. This house is part of the fabric of our family. There are bits of us all here, and we all bear the imprint of this house.
She’ll go back to the house when it’s all fixed up and fancy, but it will be different, and at 81, difference is not often easy. She could walk those halls blindfolded and not miss a beat, knowing every creak of the floorboards and groan of the walls shrinking and moving at night after the heat of the day. She can lay her hands on every light switch, all original giant black switches without looking. Except the morning the hospital rang to say my Dad had died. That morning she reached for the light switch and couldn’t find it; knowing what that phone call would be made her lose all sense of what she knew.
That’s not to say she’s not excited about her new, old house. She asks all the time about paint colours, and where cupboards will be and where her favourite chair might sit. She looks at furniture catalogues and picks out things that might replace the things she sent to charity. She can’t wait to be back, surrounded by her neighbours, holding court from her remodeled palace. In the meantime she’s living with us, keeping our house tidier than it’s ever been before or will be again, and ensuring that our pets all get equal amounts of time sitting on her lap.
Apart from my Bunnykins mug, I’ve only taken one souvenir from the old house. In one of those nobody really knows why kind of stories, what was originally the front door became the bathroom door sometime in the 1960s. One of my earliest memories is of the ornate door knob on the bathroom door; I remember spending hours gazing at its sparking, faceted beauty. It was such a fascinating anomaly in our bare-bones, basic house, so I asked our builder to save it for me before the demolition started. He handed it to me this morning, and its heaviness in my hand was a surprise, and a comfort. For all the stress and cost of this project, it feels very, very right.