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.
See 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.
Through 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.
Over 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.
Gracey 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.
Inside 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.
Now 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.