Friday, October 2, 2015
FAREWELL TO MY CHILDHOOD HOME - MARGARET TANNER
FAREWELL NO. 29 by Margaret Tanner
A few months after the death of your parents, having to sell the family home is a truly sad and painful task. More than a decade has passed since my brother, sister and I had to do this, but I still remember how traumatic it was.
The Real Estate Agent’s board said it all - FOR SALE – DECEASED ESTATE. There was a large green SOLD sticker plastered across the poster.
I came to visit you one last time because after tomorrow you will be no longer ours. As I stood at the front of No. 29, your tile roof seemed just a little drab, but your weatherboards – how well the new white paint suited them, and the mission brown trim gave you almost an air of elegance.
You will never be a grand old lady like the Victorian and Edwardian houses that fetch such high prices. No fancy iron lacework or intricately designed facade. You were a working man’s house, an old “L” shaped weatherboard.
A battler returning from the war built you, using his deferred army pay as a deposit, and times were tough. That’s why your verandah roof is covered in tin and your walls are lined with plaster board. There are no fancy fittings on the doors or windows either.
You sheltered the man, his wife and three children from gusty winds, as you stood all alone for a time in a great empty paddock. You were only half built when the family moved in, but they were thankful for the two rooms that were habitable.
There were no roads, and in winter the children squelched in mud, then tracked it all across you floors. It snowed one day, and the family cooked toast on a fork over the open fire because the electricity had gone off.
At first, only generaniums could grow in your heavy clay soil, but years and loads of sandy loam later, camellias, daphne, azaleas and numerous annuals grew triumphantly around you.
You have no front fence now as it was taken down years ago. I trudged up the concrete path leading out to the backyard. The rotary clothes hoist looked almost obscene when I remembered the old fashion line, with the wooden prop, that my father had put up when we first moved in.
Right down the back, under the big plum tree we built such cubby houses. A mere lean-to, a double storey, fruit box mansion and there was even one masterpiece with a secret room hidden behind an old tablecloth.
Ah, a wheel from my brother’s old pram wedged in a forked branch of the Granny Smith apple tree. How many times had the little fellow toddled off with his pram down to the main street on his ‘way to work.’ Desperate searches were instigated by my frantic mother when she realised her son had gone but somehow we always managed to find him again without the aid of the police, even if it did take an hour or to. Of course, those were the days when you could wander around at any hour, leave your windows and doors open and not be violated by some thug.
The old wash house. I pushed the door open and ran my finger across the concrete troughs. Was there just the slightest tinge of blue? A legacy from the Reckitt’s mum always used to whiten her sheets? I stared at the space where the old copper once stood. It not only washed our clothes, but provided bathwater also for a time until we could afford a hot water service.
The floor was concrete because we never did put lino or any covering on it. Unlined walls too. Chalky scribble on the woodwork remains, a testament to our lack of artistic talent. One of the windows was boarded up, but you couldn’t see it from outside, because the branches of a lemon tree covered it. My brother had kicked his football through the glass in a closely contested afternoon game with some of the neighbourhood kids. I remember there was hell to pay later that night though.
I fingered the back door key. How smooth and suddenly cold it felt. I had promised the new owners I would leave it inside and go out the front when I had finished.
I stood in the vestibule, it would be called a family room now, and it was sad to see the place so empty. The green room, not much more than a sleep-out really, had belonged to my brother. The pink room, we girls shared that, while our parents had the blue room. The floorboards creaked ever so slightly – was that a damp patch on the ceiling?
Mum often regaled us about the time in the early days, when I wandered up the hall with a little mouse following a few steps behind me. My sister and I received dolls for Christmas one year, but we didn’t get prams, so we put our dollies in a shoe box and dragged them along by a piece of string.
The 21st birthday and engagement parties, you remember them don’t you No. 29? We were able to jam a hundred people in here.
Loungeroom. You were painted in apricot kalsomine once. I think I like it better than the green flat plastic you wear now. The fireplace hasn’t changed much though. It hasn’t been used in years, an electric heat bank provided warmth in later times. It was easier and cleaner, but not to be compared with scented pine logs and dancing orange flames.
Mantelpiece, you look so bare now, denuded of your photographs and little ornaments. On one end had been a picture of my mother’s brother in his Air Force uniform, down the other end was a portrait of my father in his army uniform. Yes, the family had fought for King and country.
We kids hadn’t been allowed in the loungeroom much. We spent most evenings around the kitchen table listening to the daring exploits of Biggles and Tarzan.
Oh, the excitement when television first came in, the whole neighbourhood went mad. We were one of the last families to get a set, but it didn’t matter because we made it in the end.
Well, this is goodbye No. 29, I won’t be coming back to see you again, and no, I’m not crying, I’ve just got a speck of dust in my eye – that’s all. No-one sheds tears over a house.
It’s a lie, of course I’m crying, and you’re not just a house. You’re my childhood home. You sheltered me and kept my secrets. What would have happened if anyone had found out that it wasn’t a log rolling out of the fire that burned a hole in the carpet, but a little girl playing with matches?
I walked away, and then turned around for one final look. You were the best No. 29.
Margaret Tanner writes well researched Australian historical fiction with romantic elements.