Friday, 4 March 2016

Goodbye house - by David Thorpe

When the childhood home is gone, a part of your childhood leaves too.

This month I have to clear out my parents' house ready for sale – the house I grew up in and which I have been visiting ever since.

With some help from my cousin and his wife, I clear out the patterns of family life that had accrued over 58 years. It is both physically and emotionally gruelling.

The bedroom I occupied as a child is, now, nothing like it was when I inhabited it. But the shades of those times have lingered.

Out of the corner of my eye, or in the dim twilight, I can watch the ghosts of our former selves going about their business, engaged in their familiar habits.

It is in the nature of habits to strive to live long after they are needed.

A house has its own habits: the timing and the manner of the closing and opening of curtains; the operation of doors and windows; the simple management of cookers and washing machines.

A child experiences these habits as the given scaffolding supporting its life, unquestioned. An adult maintains the habits without much thought.

As the possessions disperse from the house, as my father's paintings leave the walls and the furniture is lifted off the floors, their impressions remain, paler or darker shapes, the evidence of their former existence. Cobwebs and dust are revealed to admonish the change.

The rooms look bigger. Voices echo. The light is harsher.

The child within me wanders around the house trying to make sense of it.

He finds schoolwork and project work he had forgotten about. He sniffs his grandmother's compact case, kept all these years by his mother, and suddenly she is there again after thirty years, brought to life by the scent of her.

It's what happened in the house. All the good times and the not so good.

Collections of material are unearthed that once interested him. He wonders if any modern collectors would want them, rejects the idea and they are cast into the recycling pile.

Every object in the house is sifted and a spontaneous decision made: to keep or to abandon? The weight of responsibility feels huge.

It is not the objects themselves, but the stories they represent. It is not the house itself but the shifting pattern of relationships it reveals.

The stories of the objects are held in the minds of those who knew them and lived with them. They die when those people die. To anyone else, these objects are just objects, with no further meaning. To know the stories is to know the meaning of the objects.

I think of the antiques emporia and the car boot sales around the country which are full of such objects now bereft of their stories, that nobody knows any more. They are in search of new stories.

It's the good times I want to remember.

As I dismantle the house, I feel that I am murdering the stories that are embodied within it, one by one.

Here is where I first wrote and decided I wanted to be a writer. Here is where I sat up in bed late at night, scribbling in my notebooks.

I would read by torchlight under my bed clothes when my parents thought I was asleep. Look: here is the space where my books and comics collection once lived.

A new family will live here. I've met them. There is a 12 year old girl. She is very bright.

When it emerged that I was a writer she was very interested. I gave her my last novel, Stormteller, and she began reading it straightaway.

She will create her own stories in this house. She will read late at night under the bed clothes.

Who knows? Perhaps she will become a writer too.

Perhaps that is the real habit of this house: to nurture writers.

Goodbye, house.

David Thorpe is the writer of the Sci-Fi YA novel Hybrids and the cli-fi YA novel Stormteller.


Sue Purkiss said...

Such a difficult thing to have to do. Much sympathy, David.

Catherine Butler said...

A very moving post - and one I'm sure many of us can relate to.

Joan Lennon said...

"I think of the antiques emporia and the car boot sales around the country which are full of such objects now bereft of their stories, that nobody knows any more." Such sad words - and yet, as you go on to say, "They are in search of new stories." Thank you for posting, David.

David Thorpe said...

Thanks everyone. This is making me think how you could tell a story of a child in a house from the point of view of the things in it – and I don't mean Toy Story! (Even though I had to watch Toy Story 3 again because that is also a moving film - about growing up and moving away).

Nick Green said...

I'd be tempted to leave a sneaky blue plaque...

Steve Gladwin said...

Thanks so much for sharing this David. I found it really moving and so apt as I have been sharing such thoughts myself recently.

Savita Kalhan said...

That's so hard. Thank you for sharing, David.

Abbeybufo said...

My brother and I have just had to clear my mother's bungalow after her recent death. Thankfully it wasn't the house we grew up in, though my brother lived there for a few years. But things have a resonance; we came upon her old whistle - she was a junior school teacher, and on playground duty it was always round her neck; half-finished knitting; the library book with a marker in that she was only halfway through...

It must be even harder when it's your childhood home too; very many sympathies, and thank you for posting.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

A wonderful post David. Very moving. Thank you! Brought back my own memories of my childhood home. I used to hide small treasures and notes under floorboards for other occupants to find. I wonder if they ever did?

David Thorpe said...

H Dianne - that's a lovely and quite surreal idea – leaving things for unknown future people to find – possibly. I wish Id thought of that!

And, Abbeybufo – the book mark in the library book is very poignant. It reminds me – I discovered my mother had a small collection of about 20 book marks. She was a reader, but also mostly of library books. She'd also kept every appointments diary back to 1972.

Abbeybufo said...

David, I have diaries that Mum kept for every year from 1981. The first few she was still at work, and contain very little apart from appointments and birthday reminders; they fill up as the years go on, so I now know the weather in Poole for every day from mid-1983 until July 2015, when she had her stroke.