THE HOUSES OF OUR FORMER LIVES

Last year on our annual pilgrimage to the land of our birth, we indulged ourselves in some nostalgic revisiting of old haunts.

We visited John’s eldest son and his children, who live in Manchester, so we looked up where John had gone to school in Sale but we could only find the section for girls. Later we discovered that the boys’ school had been demolished and houses built on the site. We drove along roads he had walked and cycled and looked at houses that his parents and their friends had occupied.

In Glasgow we had lived – he for the first 12 years of his life and me for 6 months with my Grandparents – in much the same part of the city. He has more interest in re-visiting former homes than I do, but when we visited Holmwood House – another Alexander ‘Greek’ Thompson ‘masterpiece’ (not!) which backs on to a cemetery, I realised that my grandparents’ house was very near that same cemetery. I still had the map in my head, and I recalled the house number and street. I realised that the area of the city which you knew as a child, and walked or cycled and could remember and navigate was actually very small; just a grid of a few streets. There were some little detours off these well known streets that you could recall perhaps from trips to a library, the city centre, a friend’s house; but this recollection was vague and not to be relied on. I directed John to the address, somewhat to his surprise.

The house had fallen on hard times. The front garden was a weed strewn mess. The two rowan trees that had stood, guarding the house from evil spirits, were gone. I was glad I could not see into the ruin of the back garden where I had played for hours in the shade of a pergola covered in that lovely rose, New Dawn, still one of my great favourites The door and whole sections of the windows were crumbling into neglect.

Other houses in the street were in much better condition so it was not the area which had deteriorated; just this one house. I felt sorry for it. Once I had loved it, and my grandparents had looked after it, but nobody loved it now.

Then I thought, as I always do about things from the past – that is all gone. All we have of then are memories. The present reality of that house belongs to someone else’s life, and not mine. In my recollection of that house, the rowans will always guard the gateway; the pergola will always be heavy with scented roses, their buds pink on opening but fading into white; my brother, a beautiful boy with blonde hair and brown eyes will hide among the potato rows with their tiny purple flowers; my grandmother will carry a tray out with milk and biscuits for us and tea for them in pink fluted cups with gold stars; and my grandfather, with his wonderful masculine smell of honey, the smoke from the bellows used to subdue the bees, and pipe tobacco, will fall asleep in his deck chair while reading the paper.

It is strange to reflect that we in our turn have become the grandparent in the garden of someone else’s memory.

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About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

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