The key in the upper lock of the door stuck slightly, as it always did, before it made the clicking sound to indicate it was locked. Yesterday, I locked the door of my childhood home for the very last time. My brother and I have gathered possessions, some of the items most cherished by our parents, old photographs and the like, to remind us of what it meant to live there, to live a life as a family with our mother and our father. Childhood games were long ago set aside as each one of us moved into adulthood and away from our parents, as all children do, in order to strike out on our own, to build our own lives. When I moved away as a young adult, somehow I imagined the door with the sticky lock would always have a place in my life. The house in which I grew up would always be there waiting for me to return to it.
I know every inch of that house. I remember as a child excitedly running across the bare hardwood floors to strip the 'SOLD' sign out of the living room window, so that I could save it for all time. At first that large window was spanned by heavy brocade drapes, and the room was dressed with dark wood furniture and accented with honeyed gold paint. With changing times and tastes, the colours softened, and those drapes were replaced with an elegant symmetry of cream colour draped across that window.
With each drop of paint, every change in decor, almost every piece of furniture and light fixture, there are memories. In the dining room, each spring Mom would climb a small ladder to take down every droplet of the crystal chandelier hanging over the table, so that each piece could be cleaned. The chandelier beautifully sparkled in the early evening light after she had finished. I did not always help her to clean it, but when I did, the task was usually lightened by laughter. Sometimes we'd pretend the crystal pieces were earrings, and we'd dance around with them held up to our ears. It was a simple and very silly time, but unforgettable.
On the last day in my childhood home there were so many memories rushing through my mind, there was a crush as I tried to single them out. Standing in the kitchen, I could almost hear the sizzle and breathe in the flavour of bacon and eggs, sausages and blood pudding, as I remembered my father at the stove cooking breakfast on a Sunday morning. Sunday morning breakfast was the only meal he would occasionally cook, and when he did, it was always so delicious. Standing in the living room I remembered celebration, images and sounds of times when we welcomed family from Ireland. I can still hear the peals of laughter, the singing, the distinctive thump of the bone hitting the bodhrán drum, and Uncle Séamus wildly playing his accordion.
Packing away my mother's large mixing spoons evoked a memory of the gorgeous fragrance of her Irish Christmas puddings, with sultana raisins, currants, candied peel, walnuts and almonds. Mom never had to measure out a single ingredient, or consult a recipe; the talent for making it was in her bones. Mom would let each one of us take a turn when it was time to mix in the porter beer, stirring the massive mixture around a large metal bowl. 'Three times around', she would say, 'Make sure it's a full three turns, and be certain to make your wish'. Oh, when I think of some of the wishes made over those puddings. If only I could make a wish now.
Standing in my childhood bedroom for the very last time, I gazed out the window over the yard, and remembered. In the mists of memory I see my father and our neighbours building the fences, and laying the sod. On the light breeze of this last afternoon the sweet scent of Mom's rose bushes wafts its way in through the open window. Peonies, Lavender, and Black-eyed Susans run slightly wild along the sides of the yard next to overgrown privet hedge. At the far end of the garden stand the hostas, still dressed in the light tears of a morning rain. Mom planted them in that first Spring after Dad died. I stand there at the window wondering if the garden knows she is gone. Do the flowers miss the deft touch of her hand, trimming everything, keeping it all well ordered?
Turning away from the window I recall the day my teenaged self announced to my mother that I had decided to paint over the soft pink walls of my little girl room. The colour I had chosen was purple. Mom wasn't at all happy about my choice, but she helped me choose the right shade of purple, and helped me paint the room. As soon as I moved out, Mom re-painted the room pink.
Walking from empty room to empty room to ensure everything is clean and well polished for the next owners, the house seems much smaller now. It was the lives within our home that made it big, but now those lives are gone.
I knew joy in that house, and laughter, but also anger, and incredible sadness too. It was the site of many beginnings and far too many endings. I loved that house, and at times I hated it too. I knew freedom, learning, and happiness there, but also stringent limits and boundaries that I sometimes reeled against. It meant all things to me, but more than anything it was my family home, the home in which I believed I would always find my parents, a place of roots, of our foundation and our connection.
With the last click of that lock the connection is now severed; for us the place is gone.
It is only a house now, no longer a home.
- Ár dTeaghlach: Our Family
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- Interviewing Family
- Finding Irish Ancestors: Research Aids
- 'Orphans' List of 1847 - The Great Famine
- The Act of Union Black List 1800/1801
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