Last weekend, we went to stay at my sister’s house while she was away (treating it as a free hotel, basically). My sister’s house used to be my house, our family house. Our parents bought it when I was a baby. I lived there until I was 18. Mum lived there until her death in 1999 and Dad til his in 2010. Then my sister moved in.
Since she’s lived there, people have asked me – and I’ve asked her – if it’s weird to live in the house we grew up in, sleep in our parents’ bedroom. I’ve said no, she says no. But last weekend I found it really weird. Every room was bursting with memories. I said, “When I lived here, when I was a child…” so many times that eventually Harry said, “We don’t CARE about when you were a child! We’re only interested in us!”
But there I was, sitting on the loo, remembering hiding from my sister while she hid (or I suspected she was hiding), waiting to jump out and scare me. Or the time some boys were coming round, the doorbell rang, Leanne shouted at me to get it, I shouted back “I’M ON THE LOO!” Of course they heard and I was mortified.
I stood in the bathroom, remembering putting on make-up, shaving my legs, lying on a bench with my head backwards over the bath while Mum washed my hair. (Just typing that, I can feel the bench under my shoulders, the edge of the bath against my neck, the perfect water temperature I thought of as being “like a peach.”)
Dad, in the front room (where these photos are taken), with his foot up on the sofa, playing the guitar and singing Country & Western. (Probably The Crystal Chandelier.) Sitting at the dining table, watching Pepsi & Shirlie on Splash! on the portable TV, the windows all steamed up, the smell of boiling potatoes…
I had to keep stopping myself, pushing my mind away before I got overwhelmed. It wasn’t even just the house – we stopped in town to get some cash and by the time I got back to the car I was almost in tears. We’ve talked about moving there so the boys can be nearer to their cousins, but I don’t know if I can. All those memories bellowing at me all the time.
I think part of the reason I get so upset (apart from the whole orphan thing, obv.) is that I feel so guilty about not appreciating my childhood. Until fairly recently, I didn’t think I had a great childhood. I’m not even sure why I thought that. When I scanned in the hundreds of slides after Dad died, happiness shone out of so many of them. We were (almost) always smiling. And we did a lot of stuff. We had great holidays and days out. My sister thinks she had a great childhood, so what’s my problem? Why do the bad memories – they’re not even that bad, mostly the usual childhood angst things – stick so much faster than the good?
I suspect that what came later – Dad’s redundancy, Mum’s MS, their unhappiness, my desperation to leave (to move to London) – has overshadowed the happy childhood stuff. And I worry that all the time (and money) David and I spend trying to create a close-to-perfect childhood for our boys could be washed away too. Does that make any sense?
I guess the upside is that I feel like I’m getting it back. The memories keep coming and I can appreciate them, I can appreciate what our parents did for us. But it’s a total bastard that I can’t share that with them.
“There is a crushing joy that crackles in every corner of this world. I am tiny, and yet I am here…I can do nothing but laugh, and sometimes laugh and cry.”
– N. D. Wilson (via SweetSilver)