The keepers of my family history sit in what is left of my Grandparents’ home, sad and alone, orphans of the past. The polished timbers and sparkling mirrors are now smudged and dulled from the ravages of time. My Grandmother’s laundry is their final resting place, where they have stood in swirling floodwaters, river silt and debris. Those old cupboards have long been depleted of their contents, but the memories remain, for they have been the keepers of family secrets, messages from the past. They held the key to my Grandfather’s childhood, his father’s military career and his Mother’s pioneering family.
When I look at the photograph above of the old wardrobe that possibly housed Grandma’s dresses and hats, I am saddened at its weathered appearance. Nothing before me matches my childhood memories of my Sunday visits to Grandma’s house, many years ago….
Sitting on the bed, I gently stroke the shimmery fabric of Grandma’s quilt. My eyes follow the delicate lines of running stitch which fade into a pool of light formed below the window. A few stray rays of light escape the lace curtains and bounce off the moulded brass knobs and rails that support Grandma’s mound of pillows. I love Grandma’s bed; I love the way it glistens like gold. There are so many treasures to explore at Grandma’s house.
My eyes keep bouncing along the ripples of the tongue and groove walls, following the lines up to the edge of the tall ceiling, falling upon the knotted mosquito net suspended way above Grandma’s head. There is so little time, so much to see. An elegant wide brimmed hat sits on the chair by the French doors that open onto the verandah. I stop for a brief moment to admire my reflection in the mirrored cupboard door. I giggle to myself as I recall the white porcelain pot I had once glimpsed on the floor beneath the bed.
Sitting in silence at Grandma’s house was never boring. My daydreams, my friends, kept me busy. Most of my memories of our visits to Grandma’s house are visual. Most are associated with objects and pieces of furniture in her house. I loved to sit on one of the two miniature bentwood chairs that sat along the back kitchen wall and my eyes opened wide with delight as they admired the scrubbed pine hutch that sat on the opposite wall. It was overflowing with an assortment of cups hanging from hooks and plates sitting in rows against the back cupboard wall. The soft muted colours and cracks and lines indicated they were as old as Grandma herself. Yes, Grandma’s house was a feasting ground for my hungry young eyes.
Often, other family members visited Grandma as well. I recall sitting on the front verandah listening to the various Aunts, Uncles and cousins catching up with each other’s lives. My roving eyes watched the outside world through the gaps in timber rails; they watched football fans lining up along the old iron fence, as they filed into the Sports Reserve across the street.
There was one room in Grandma’s house that was for the most part out of view. Occasionally, through an open door, I spied a sparsely furnished space. Out of the shadows, loomed dark timber cupboards and bookshelves that sat solemnly against the dull grey walls. Those walls according to my memories, were mostly unadorned, although I cannot say for sure. It was a room shrouded in a heaviness like that of death. The roller blinds were kept lowered like a flag at half-mast.
The past is often clouded by a shadowy cast; making colours blur and fade into shades of grey. Our memories can be fickle, as they waver and flicker like a candle in the wind. What can we believe? How reliable are impressions formed fifty years before? Images in our minds become fragmented by time. However, whenever I think of that front room in Grandma’s house, my impressions remain unchanged. I sense there was a mystery buried deep within. It is biding time, waiting to take a chance; waiting to be freed.
Looking now at those old cupboards, I am thankful that I have my memories and of course that the contents of those cupboards have for the most part been saved. Yes, it is sad that a household has been reduced to a few old empty cupboards in such state of neglect, but the souls of the occupants will live on. Stories have been passed down through generations, photographs are proof that life once existed in the house of my childhood memories and there is a lifetime collection of memorabilia to ensure that the spirit of the family will live on.