26 March 2012
51 years old
I took a camera with me to the house that I grew up in, but I didn’t take any pictures. There is nothing there of my childhood. Nothing I can remember. Our modest floor coverings: cheap carpet in the living room, linoleum in the kitchen, have been pulled out by the tenants. Bare boards lay exposed like the naked flesh of hospital patients, covered here and there by hospital gown furniture.
Everything seemed smaller: the distance from the back door to our outside toilet, especially so. I remember running from one to the other, telling myself I had to reach the outhouse before the screen door of the house slammed shut. Such is the mind of a child – obsessive, compulsive, always counting. Making sense of the world by inventing causes and consequences. “If I get to the toilet before the screen door slams, it means Malcolm in my class likes me.” But I see now the distance barely warrants a thought. I reach it in three steps.
The rooms, which in my mind are spacious, are in fact small. The one I shared with my sister is the size an ensuite bathroom. But at least it was clean and tidy when we lived here, though never enough so to satisfy our mother. Now there is clutter upon clutter, making cleaning difficult; even so, it seems the tenants do not make this a priority. A long slim sofa stands up to attention as I walk into the living room. It has no cushions and the base is ripped. It reaches up toward the ceiling. Mum says, “What’s this? An ornament?”
“More like sculpture,” I say.
An abundance of mismatched furniture fills every room. Every surface is crowded with papers, rubbish, books and trinkets. The windows are bare and dirty. I wonder what happened to our venetian blinds. They were beige and dusted row by row by mum, and later myself.
I cannot speak of the bathroom.
Our backyard still seems quite big, but where once we could see almost nothing of our neighbours, now houses and modern extensions rise above fences like invaders. Meanwhile the trees that still sway in my mind’s eye are nowhere to be seen. I remember the debris and dry leaves that dropped into our place all year round from the enormous gum tree that overhung our yard from next door, and the first time mum asked me to sweep up at the back. I struggled with the long broom handle. Our plum tree that provided fruit for jam and eating is also no longer there. I recall the sticky smell in the air in summer as the flies buzzed beneath, enjoying summer shade, as we all did.
Just before we leave I glance around the corner to the side of the house. Of course the wooden gate that dad built has long ago disappeared. The one there now is made of metal. But something else catches my eye: the gutter that runs along the ground at the side of house. It isn’t rounded as many are, instead the sides slope sideways down to a “v”. I ran along here in bare feet every day in summer, to play in the street out front of our house.
A feeling of warmth and freedom arrests me as I remember Trevor from next door, Betty from the house next to Trev’s, Susan from the corner and her brother Bill, John, Peter, Doug, Christina, Jenny and little brother Kon. I remember rushing home one early evening, balancing along this concrete gutter, happily anticipating a new show on television that was starting that night, “I dream of Jeannie”.
This outside stretch of concrete remains unchanged, and this alone transports me to the place I had hoped to find when I came here: it has taken me home.
For anyone who missed and would like to read Part 1.