I was tagged, along with Vanessa and Jodi, by John Anthony James to write about where I grew up. It was a great prompt, as I have been meaning to write something similar for my parents and sister, for the past year or so (so thank you for the tag!)
Source: courtesy of Vanessa
Before I was born, my moved to the house where my father grew up – and his father before him.
It was the house my great grandfather had commissioned in the mid 1920s – a brick California bungalow style home, with a central porch, flanked by a rounded living room on one side and the master bedroom on the other, and trimmed with timber shingles near the eaves and a pebbly render at the lower half of the brick work. A large liquid-amber tree stood in the front garden, filtering the view from the street. Along with other trees, it provided both shade and an ongoing need to clean gutters and close off loopholes for possums who used it and other trees as a vehicle for thumping across the roof through the night, and occasionally finding a way into the house.
Over time, the floorboards became creaky, the plaster would be periodically patched up as the house ‘moved’ and cracks appeared, and a first, and then a second extension were added. But the front of the house remained largely the same (with the exception of a small ensuite Mum and Dad put in, much to their delight). Once you had stepped through the ironwork security doors, plus the wooden front doors, and into the dark panelling of the hallway, you knew you were home.
A year after we moved in, my sister was born, and we both grew up in our house, living there through our school and university years, before moving out into shared accommodation. So much of our lives was spent at home – playing lego and board games (especially with cousins), doing piano practice (with one eye on the clock counting down the minutes), playing totem tennis with friends, and testing out the new Atari computer. We would help with gardening – so much raking! – but with the fun of the incinerator at the end (one part of childhood I miss – I loved poking the fire!). And I experimented with gardening, transplanting moss and violets from other parts of the garden to form a landscaped entry to our cubby house (to varying success).
All our birthday parties in primary school years were at home – and a highlight was always the decision on which cake to choose from the Australian Women’s Weekly cookbook. And as we grew older, video nights at home and sleep overs became more common. We were one of the first families to get a video player / recorder, and Dad wisely chose a VHR, so the joys of watching Grease were available quite early (not, alas, the episode of Young Talent Time when I was in the audience along with friends for a birthday party, as we hadn’t quite grasped the concept of the 24 hour clock when pre-setting the recording. Oh well, the other kids at school told us that we were on TV, so that made up for it, kind of).
We used to play tennis on the road. At one end of our short street was a private school (which, by the time we were in secondary school, Mum was teaching at, and we had access as a result to the school tennis courts), and at the other was another local street. During those years, the street had limited traffic, except around school hours. So we could play for hours, although we had the challenge of the rise in the road. Our house was sited at the top of the ‘hill’ (if you saw where I lived, you would think ‘hill’ was an exaggeration, but not, perhaps, if you were endlessly running down this hill to chase missed tennis balls). I’ve always liked time on my own as well and would spend hours on weekends hitting against the wall of the shed, practicing my tennis strokes, as well as inventing games (how many down balls, bounces up, spinning between bounces that I could do, jumps, etc). Tennis, for over 10 years, was a major part of my life, between lessons, club matches (often mornings and nights), and school matches – I keep saying I will take it up again, and I hope I actually do. As well, hours and hours were spent reading – walking around the house, just missing walking into doors given my face was perpetually in a book. I now appreciate how much time we had for these things.
Of course, we lived very much in suburbia, and our neighbours was very much a part of our lives too, in a measured way. We often had visitors, but not often spontaneous ones. I come from a family who liked to be prepared (my sister excepted, the extravert of the house). If we were having (adult) people for dinner, for instance, we would spend the day leading up to it polishing the silverware (all hands on deck), meals were planned in advance, and the table would be set ahead of time. Play dates, in our younger years in particular, were planned well in advance (not sprung on us like my kids try to do to me).
So our interactions with neighbours had a different role – they brought more spontaneity into our lives than might otherwise have been there. There were daily chats with neighbours walking past, often with their dogs – we joined in when I started secondary school and we gained the first (and best) of a number of my family’s dogs. These were more incidental relationships. But then there were the ones we knew better – closer friends. Our neighbours on one side were an older couple, and Dad had grown up with their children. Christmas morning was spent there, and in between, there was much sharing of fruit (for making jam), home grown vegetables, garden tools and the like. When they moved into a nursing home,the new neighbours built a two storey box on the back of their bungalow, which loomed over our house. It in turn has recently been demolished, replaced by a reproduction French Provincial house which extends to both boundaries – a trend that has been occurring, in different forms, over the past 15-20 years. By contrast, our other neighbours also added a double storey, but kept the key elements (roof line and so on) intact. Their daughter, who was about 10 years older than us, used to babysit us occasionally. It was fun when she did. Less fun was the time we both peeked over the fence to find out what the reason for all the squealing was in the pool next door. We had never seen skinny dipping before. To this day, I associate skinny dipping with the smacks we both received after we screamed to Mum and Dad in shock (and I’m sure our next door neighbour and her ‘friend’ screamed too, although I don’t really remember that part).
Within our street, there were homes with kids of a similar age, and we sometimes played together, experimenting with which flowers could be picked to suck the sweet sap from and which might make you sick, leaves to fold and make music from, bike riding (up and down the street – not much further) and story telling. I remember one girl, a little older than me, who was part of our group of neighbourhood friends, joined us wearing a beanie, even though it was not cold. A few months later, Mum explained to us what leukaemia was, and that our friend wouldn’t be playing with us anymore. Shortly after this, she died. That was my first experience of death of a friend – I still feel a little pain when I think about it.
So much family history was wrapped up in our house – formal celebrations, get togethers, engagement parties and wedding preparations, memories of family members past and present, and stories of my father and his brother growing up in the house. It formed the hub for our extended family too – it was the gathering place, the family base if you like, when we would all get together. It was more than our house – it was our home. So it was sad when, many years after they had planned to do so, Mum and Dad finally put the family home up for sale. It was becoming too big, and the maintenance required too significant, for them to manage.
Leading up to the auction, I took photos of the house. These were not photos like the estate agent took, showing the house in all its glory (and hiding those parts we didn’t want to draw attention to). No, these were photos which might not mean as much to other people, but helped solidify the home in my mind:
- The way the light filtered through the windows into what was my bedroom but had become Mum’s study.
- The symmetry of the security and front doors, reminding me of the memory of being locked between the two, and reliant on coercing a school student who happened to walk past to please get the spare key for me (and the subsequent process of finding a new hiding spot).
- The details around the open fire place – still the warmest part of the house (even though wall heaters were installed, the house was freezing in winter. You could see your breath when you were sitting watching TV, as Dad insisted on keeping the windows and front door open. ‘It’s not cold, it’s bracing’, and ‘put another jumper on’ were his two favourite expressions).
- The 1970s orange pull down light shade, which was almost looking stylish again.
- Other minor details, too specific to be of interest to others.
The house was sold at auction, about a year and a half ago now – below is a photo of the house on this day. Mum and Dad are now happily living in a smaller, more modern and lower maintenance home. Another family calls it home now. And we have our photos. But more specifically, we have the memories of a place I will always think of as home.