It always amazes me to think that every house on every street is full of so many stories; so many triumphs and tragedies, and all we see are yards and driveways.~ Glenn Close
The house I grew up in was a modern house. I did not love it. It had no character. Oh, it's walls were straight, it's windows sealed, the roof never leaked, & my mother was, & is, a most extraordinary home~maker. She worked hard to make her home beautiful & even harder to keep it as neat & tidy as a new pin.
The house was long with one long, slightly pitched roof that the possums used to race along in the dead of a night that was punctuated by blood~curdling screams when a possum misjudged & flew off the end. At the eastern end the t.v antenna pierced the sky. It provided the perfect perch for kookaburras & magpies to dive bomb the pool. It was fibro: easy care, easy maintainance & perched amongst the sandstone & funnel webs on the south side of a steep hill with waterfrontage along the Port Hacking River & great views of The Royal National Park. My father bought the land for a song when it was so far out of town we were little more than country hicks.
When I was a child the flannel flowers & Christmas Bells grew in riotous profusion but they are delicate plants requiring stable eco~systems & by the time I left home they were no more. They will not return.
The house looked like what it was: a '70's kit home with all the mod~cons ~ & don't get me wrong. I appreciate the mod~cons. And it did have some stories to tell after 20 odd years with my brothers for it was Mark who decided to brew ginger beer under the house. Too much sugar resulted in a massive explosion one night. Five minutes later there was a gentle tinkling sound as one by one all the bathroom tiles slide down the wall & shattered on the floor. And there was the night the whole house shook & my mother, who is a light sleeper, shot up~right in bed demanding to know, "What was that?" My father, who was anything but a light sleeper, sleepily mumbled, "Just the possums on the roof, dear. Go back to sleep." Which simply goes to prove that the possums on our roof created the same amount of shake as a small earthquake.
It was Mark who accidently sat on the cactus by the front door & spent some time with his bottom in the air while his mother & aunt pulled out all the spines. For a great many years John kept a salt water fish tank opposite the dining room table & you were liable to eat your meal while the tank residents ate eat other! It redeemed itself the morning were were woken by my mother's excitement to find a tankfull of tiny, newborn seahorse! However John also kept blue ringed octopus & they were escape artists extraordinaire; you were liable to find their shiveled dehydrated bodies all over the house.
There was a certain blandness to the house I grew up in. The Celt in me responded to something wilder & more eccentric. I found it in my Aunt's house ~ though I think only she & I loved it with a passion. The more practical sorts were horrified by its faults. My father never cared for it after he spent all of one holiday replacing the white ant riddled cedar roof beams during a monsoonal summer. We children where thrilled to be living under tarpaulins with buckets under all the drips & half the furniture sitting out on the lawn! As an adult I have a fellow feeling for my mother & aunt, who were less than thrilled. Or perhaps it was the fact that half his bike ended up in my Aunt's fancy set of steps. That it had been sitting in her garage for several decades was beside the point.
Trafalgar Vale was a generous house; muddly, worn, sturdy. I used to love coming up the old wooden steps to be greeted by its particular smell: the garden of course, rich, red soil harbouring a plethora of plants steaming in a tropical broth; wooden boards baking in the sunlight; dust motes dancing in the ribbons of filted light streaming down through the wisteria & alamander & through the louvres of the enclosed side verandahs ~ but most of all the smell of thinners & turps pungently underpinning everything. My Aunt painted on one of the side verandahs & the smell of her oils & turps permeated the whole house.
My aunt was a gardner. She did not care for housekeeping or cooking. She painted so she could buy the plants she couldn't beg, borrow, scavange or downright steal. Anytime she walked anywhere any stray tendril overhanging a footpath would be snapped off & carted home where it would be popped into a container of potting mix & lovingly coddled into new life.
All these things created a heady mix but the thing that drew me & held me long after the house itself was sold & all the heavy, burdensome furniture parceled out to thrift shops, was the sense of history. Magpie like my aunt had somehow accumulated most of the family treasures & all of the stories. You could spend hours rifling through the boxes of photos of Victorians & Edwardians, with their piled up hair & billowing skirts. My aunt knew all their names & each had a story. My Aunty Bell, so tiny grandfather could pick her up with one hand; she played the piano beautifully. My grandfather ~ who grew the only Tamarind in Brisbane. Uncle Norman, who went away to the war & never came home. They might be dead & buried, decent Christians every one, but their ghosts lingered in that house & it was no surprise to me that shortly before she died my Aunt was found propped up in bed having a tea party & merrily chatting away to people who had long ago departed this earth!
I've always been a sucker for a good story. My Aunt's house had a library full of them.