Tag Archives: nostalgia

our house

My childhood home still seems such a huge part of my life. It has already shaped so many of my memories and I think in some small way it will stay with me forever, endless and omnipresent. We lived in the same house my whole life, a big red one on a hill, just like a storybook. So many births and breaths and parties and tears, all seen by these four unseeing walls.

Come with me if you like, I’ll show you around.

HomeSee here? These are the old couches that we pushed back together, four little girls, Vanya, Gemma, Grace and I, and played a game called hey-boomfa, which involved launching ourselves across the room and into each other, padded by eight or nine cushions.

This carpet is where we danced maniacally to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album, or mum’s Jesus Christ Superstar CD. We set up a stage, just here under the stairs, and charged mum and dad fifty cents each to endure our terrible stage shows. We strung a swing up around that beam once too, and sang loudly to our Lion King CD as we took turns swinging, kicking our feet higher and higher into the air.

And over here, this is where Santa crept in each Christmas, sliding down the floo and emerging from the fireplace, to where the cookies and milk sat waiting for him, above five limp stockings, ready to be full and crackling with secrets and wrapping paper the next morning. And just here, this is where Grace and I lay mesmerised one night, staring up at the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, having crept back down the stairs well after bedtime.

Handmade Christmas stockings - Vanya's and mineThrough here is where we had to hide while the Easter Bunny was in the garden, peeking through gaps in the curtains and fizzing with excitement, waiting for a glimpse of a big white rabbit with a basket, hiding fat chocolate eggs in amongst the dewy garden.

This is the house in which I reread countless Harry Potters, lying upstairs in a sun-strewn bedroom, a half empty pack of chocolate Girl Guides at my side. Where I read aloud to Grace on the bunk above me most nights, only to find out that she had fallen asleep several painstaking chapters earlier.

And out here, this is the garden where Witchy-Poo chased us. She always arrived in a heightened mess of confusion, Witchy-Poo, with nobody quite sure where she would appear from. Then suddenly one of us would spot her, all in black, creeping around the side of the wooden fence across the lawn. And then the chase would begin, children screeching with terror and delight around the garden, running as fast as we could. Witchy-Poo’s visits always coincided uncannily with our Aunty Rhonda’s, and it was some years before I figured it out.

Foxgloves and fencesOver there, that’s the driveway that we walked everyday from the bus, shivering and hunched when it rained, and strolling happily when the sun shone, picking tart apples from our trees to eat along the way. We caught blue butterflies with mum’s sieve in the bright garden, and trapped birds in lunchboxes rigged with a string-tied chopstick. See that huge gum tree? That’s the tree that Gemma fell from when she was just little, climbing higher and higher and falling, flailing through the branches, landing flat on her back and screaming for mum.

From the haybarnGracey and I sat on top of that old concrete water tank when we took our first drag of a badly rolled cigarette, coughing and spluttering as the harsh smoke tore down our throats, and exclaiming incredulously at each other afterwards. Down the hill there, you can see from over here, that’s the kiwifruit orchard that we pruned, pollinated and picked, year after year, season after season. And lining the driveway is the olive grove that we spent one whole holiday planting, dad hammering in each post with the rammer, his shoulders heaving and sweat running down his face.

Our viewInside are the stairs that Grace used to climb each night with her glass of water and ice, the tingle of the ice against the glass becoming synonymous with her footsteps, and bedtime. And at the bottom of the stairs, in this room here, this is where mum and dad sat us down to tell us that they loved us, and that they were separating. Through there is the kitchen where dad and I tried fruitlessly to learn to cook, and ate pork chops and bacon each night, and cried while we did the dishes.

And through here, this was Alex’s room, always shrouded in warm yellow light from the pulled curtains, and full of the milky, apple-sweet smell of a sleeping baby. This is the bath where Grace and I tried to shave our legs as children, pushing the razor the wrong way and jumping guiltily when mum caught us.

There’s the pool that we spent every day of summer in, and where we jumped in at midnight on each New Years Eve. I found out when I was 23 that ‘midnight’ was actually only 10pm, and that everyone present at the party would do a fake countdown just so the children would finally go to bed. It’s the pool that dad broke his nose in playing ‘sharky’, smashed clean into the wall whilst trying to catch our slippery legs.

And out there are the paddocks where I learnt to drive, hiccupping along in an old Subaru named Betty and feeling as though I owned the world.

This house has been part of the family for as long as I’ve been alive, almost a living, breathing thing, the eighth member, now the twelfth member.

Buffet tables and photosNow when I visit, the floors are bare and hardwood, a huge buffet table sits astride the lounge and historical family photos line the walls, with shearing handpieces and dried hydrangeas in tasteful vases. It is strange, to come here now and open doors and cupboards, finding only stacked chairs and the musty smell of uninhabited rooms.

It’s almost as though I expect to find a seven year old Grace in the linen cupboard, asleep behind a pile of towels in a long forgotten game of hide and seek. She always seemed to win, somehow.

Three Generations - That's us kids on the right!

Hardwood floors and historyShearing Exhibition - Historical poster for Garba's shearing Bowen Technique


memory keeper

When I was little I had so many books to read. Every Christmas and birthday I would receive at least four new books. It was an easy present to get me; I was always the nerd, the girl with her head in a book, the one who walked down the stairs reading.

I remember how I used to pick a book off my shelf, so full of hand me downs and borrowed books long left behind. I would turn them over in my hands, the cover art and font evoking vague memories – a funny scene, what cookies I ate while I first read it, where I was. I would choose a book to read with no less thought than choosing a movie, ignorant of the fact that whichever book I chose would influence my life for the next week. I still do that now; choose a book to read at a whim. Psychologists tell us that when we make a decision fast, we tend to regret it less and be happier with our choice than if we had agonized over it. If only I could do the same with ice cream flavours.

I love the way that the covers still evoke such memories. Even now, every time I see the metallic silver gleam of the Artemis Fowl books, I still think of lying on the bed in my tiny upstairs room, the afternoon sun streaming through the small window and eating an entire packet of Girl Guide’s. My favourite book when I was 13, Firebringer, always transports me to the grassy area around Room 9 from my intermediate school. I still have no idea why, but it happens every time. Tomorrow When The War Began, always of the shady clearing sheltering the shallow stream down at the back of our farm.

I love sand in books. It reminds me of where I was, the hot sun beating on my back while my head is in another world, where not only plot and characters, but also physics and even generally unquestioned laws of the universe are dictated by the author. I suspect The Help will always remind me of the sombrillas, the white sand and azure water of Formentor, Spain, despite the fact that it is a American book set in the hot dust of Mississippi cotton fields, written from the perspective of the black maids working in white-owned southern plantation houses.

But this doesn’t just happen through books. It happens through everything around us, every sense that we have, every pore of our body – just like skin remembers touch, we remember situations and imprint them onto substances.

L’Oreal Happyderm, a girly foaming pink cleanser, will always and forever remind me of living with my mother, when I was 18 and had just discovered the mysterious world of make up. Every day when I wasn’t commuting to the big smoke, I was excitedly driving the three minutes down the road to Raglan’s only miniscule pharmacy, to browse the L’Oreal, Mabelline and Rimmel stands hungrily, roving back and forth between them, torn between the two products in my hands. I remember the excitement that swelled in my stomach during that short drive, so huge I had to grin, knowing that I could buy another lip gloss, or bronzer, or foundation, to add to my small but growing collection. I remember the exact shape and colour of my first foundation, slightly orangey but so, so glamorous to my young inexperienced hands. And so began my obsession with cosmetics. I should have known then that it was the start of something special.

The Body Shop’s seaweed cleanser takes me back to my second year flat in the freezing, burnt-coffee aroma of North Dunedin, each and every time I smooth it on. I happily remember the stress, the inconvenience of having to return to my awkward, abandoned Castle street room, always clean and tidy but ultimately unloved, rejected and cold. I hated being there, but I looked forward eagerly to returning to Oli’s warm flat, always full of people and heat pumped air, a bag of clean clothes and toiletries in tow.

I wonder how I can remember this time happily all because of a cleanser, and recently I found out why. Nostalgia is always positive. It is a happy emotion, no matter what the context. Maybe that’s why we all love those old L&P ads so much.

These memories follow me around throughout my life, almost as though I had bottled them myself, to take from place to place as a sentimental keepsake.

Strawberries are another one that gets me every time. One taste, one smell, reminds me unconditionally of Christmas in Raglan. I imagine chopping them in half, the knife slicing through the seedy red flesh to meet my thumb, the fizz and bubbling of the champagne as the fruit hits the bottom of the glass. They remind me perfectly of a New Zealand Christmas with the family, happily raising our glasses, smiling faces freshly made up and shining with love, wine, and Mum’s inevitable camera flashes.