Saturday, April 14, 2012

Your childhood home

I wonder how many of our children are going to have the memory of a childhood home like I do?  I lived in the same house from when I was 5 until I left home.  My father lived there for many years afterwards.   I knew everything about that house - I can still do a virtual walk-though of the place, right down to the squeaky floorboards and the place we blocked the corridor to train our fox terrier to jump on command.

Thing is, a house you grow up in is more than a place.  Its a scaffold for memory, a way to recall parts of your past that are otherwise inaccessible.  Doing those 'walk throughs' in my mind is like running my finger down an index card of memories.

Front door --->  Huge orb weaver spiders, setting up the tea table on the red-washed front porch when Granny shah came for tea, the spiders hanging, fat, in their webs.  The window that you could jiggle over the front door to break in if you lost your key.

Living Room -->  It was a small house but we still had a formal sitting room we seldom used.  The hallway with its low sideboard from which I still bear dents in my shins and rose patterned sofas my granny upholstered herself, in the days one still did such things without it being a hobby you bragged about on pinterest or marketed on etsy.

Back yard --> cowboys and indians, the frangipani tree we climbed while breaking fragile branches (the skin, dry like paper but oozing milky sap) and the castles we built from wooden crates our parents scavenged from somewhere.  David and I captured an Indian Mynah in one, once... waiting with a long string looped over the crate and through his bedroom window.

And I could continue in a way that doesn't make a good story but is, still, infinitely interesting to me like unexpectedly meeting someone kind who has shared a significant moment in your life and reminiscing.

"Do you remember when we....?"
"And wasn't that... "

Like the memory I have of finding snail eggs in Lauren Muller's hot brick wall.  Remembering when we buried the ancient egyptian artifact in her yard because we thought it might channel the devil.  To have been there gives the mundane meaning.

I've been pondering this since Wren asked me "where did I live before this house?"  He was 4 when we moved and I thought he would remember but I had to tell him stories about his old house to remind him.  I told him about the tree swing and the chickens.. then he remembered.  I was considering making a little scrapbook for him so he could see his first house.

Then I received an email from my best friend until 4th Grade.  Tamsyn's home was a lovely place in Durban.  I remember the house through a child's eyes - never growing up beyond 11 - so I recall  moments rather than places, the interior always dark and woody because the light outside was so bright.  I just learned from her that her childhood home has been demolished for redevelopment.

Tamsyn's home on Marriot Road

In my childhood home on the Berea I planted a tree.  I still remember the latin name - Erythrina Crista-galli - I grew if from a seed and planted it outside my bedroom window.  It grew huge and I hung a bird table in it and watched birds.  That was my hobby.  One day a burchell's coucal came to my bird-feeder!  It was thrilling.   The tree had a ridged thorny trunk that was impossible to climb but it made splendid red trumpet flowers every year and I was proud of it.  I was really sad to hear it had been cut down a few years ago.  I was quite angry about my tree.

And I wondered... are the places of childhood more significant to immigrants?  Is it an anchor to a place we recall fondly or is it this way for everyone who has a happy childhood?  Will Frost look back on this house and feel it is always his, in some unique and significant way?  Will he drive by and scold the new owners if they build a fence, if they remodel the exterior, or - god forbid - tear it down to build a town home?

Does everyone have a family home that is The One Place they remember best?  Perhaps a grandparents home or a place they visited every summer?  I really am curious.  Please tell me about yours...