Thursday, May 26, 2011

Eulogy For Our Home.

Our old house. The things it had seen. The ups, the downs, the laughter, the tears, the arguments, the break-ups, the make-ups. Who knew that one could form such a close attachment to a pile of bricks and mortar? 

But of course, houses become much more than that. So much so, that they become more than part of our lives but part of the family. Throughout life’s adventures, there has always been one solid, silent structure which can offer support. They require the same love and attention as any other child, not to mention the same seemingly bottomless monetary needs. Similarly, they must endure the same torment and abuse that rival siblings dish out on each other. While my mother did her best to ruin my 5 year old reputation by decking me out in stripy braces and bowl-cut bobs, our house was fitted with epileptic inducing carpets (yes Mum, I’m sure any pattern resembling a collision of 80’s acidic colours and Aztec designs will hide a multitude of stains). And wow, the faded beige Formica fixtures and the infamous brown bathroom carpet. Carpet. And bathroom. God knows what sins that carpet concealed.

And yet, I fear that many people may underestimate the connection between occupant and house. I have lived in the same house for the first 24 years of my life. Indeed, I may never live in another house for as long ever again. For despite all of its shortcomings, it was that uniquely familiar, musty, lived-in smell as I returned home from many travels away that immediately reassured me: ‘I’m home.’ It was the smell of the richest, red wine gravy on the perfect Sunday roast. 

I knew my way around it inside and out. Blindfolded. Knew which slight movement the bent key needed to open the front door. Knew how to perfectly reverse my car around the blind-bend driveway to impress the new boyfriend. Knew exactly what pressure the kitchen tap needed, and could always rely on the friends who didn’t to drench themselves. Knew, in the middle of the night how many tentative steps it was to the sock drawer to warm my numb feet. I always knew, that it was always there.

It came as no shock when after years of blood, sweat and tears my father finally packed in the family business. I didn’t even bat an eyelid when the parents said they wanted to sell up and move abroad. Cheap holidays in the Algarve. Perfect. The house was duly pepped up, packed up and sold within 6 months.

Then, it slowly dawned. I had packed up nearly a quarter of a century of memories. I reluctantly said goodbye to the same elderly neighbours whom we once feared when we snuck into their gardens to retrieve our lost tennis balls. It was only when I stood in the empty doorway of our house and stared at squares of discoloured wallpaper where family photographs had hung, that it finally hit home; this wasn’t home anymore. I shed a tear as a door to my past closed. It felt like, no it was, the end of an era.

Having the carpet literally ripped up from underneath me resulted in a restless and uncertain six months. Uprooted, misplaced and with no base to return to, I felt like a complete lost soul. At the same time however, as I sofa hopped from one friend to the next with one bag of clothes, there was the realisation that I didn’t need half the things that I once considered fundamental to feeling at ‘home’, or even just to live a day-to-day life. Most of the belongings and objects were clutter that I could do without.

Cornwall being the beautiful although often more than uncomfortable Royston Vasey-esque place it is, it turned out I knew the family that moved into my old home; the boyfriend’s family of my childhood friend who once lived two doors down in the very same street. I stopped by one day and stood uncomfortably as I rung the door bell as a stranger, and not as a daughter who had, once again, locked herself out. It was so surreal walking into that same but different hallway. I felt dizzy. I had to stop myself asking why they had hung that god awful clock on the wall forgetting for that split second that I no longer lived there. Different faces but contented smiles beamed down from new family photographs that lined the walls. Kids giggled and ran riot in the garden outside just as me and my brother used to. There was the consolation that my home had gone to a good home. And that home smell. It was no longer there. My home had transformed into just another house, but into someone else’s home.

As I stepped off the plane in Portugal on my first visit to the new family abode the heat smacked my face with an air of the unknown. I had mourned the old house, but now was impatiently excited to see the new home. How uncanny to see the familiar of all our old furniture from England in new and clean surroundings. Not a brown carpet in sight (although there were a few new Aztec print mats). I even quietly gave a sigh of relief when I saw all my pointless clutter in my new room. But something still just didn’t feel right.

When my brother arrived a few days later everything slotted into place. It made perfect sense. With the family all back together, the house now felt like home. I learnt that home, most definitely, is where the heart is. The white washed walls of the new house suddenly became our new home: a blank canvas in which to paint the next twenty five years of memories.