Monday, May 10, 2010

The Last To Go

Wellington RoadI’m possibly being overly sentiment (and sentimentality is never a good thing) but today is the day my grandparent’s house is laid to rest (killed is too strong a word).

The house clearance people – a local firm of auctioneers – are already at work, possibly even finished by the time you read this, clearing out the furniture, the cupboard junk, the knick-knacks, the physical manifestations of over 60 years and at least 4 generations of family life.

All of it – the dishes we used at Christmas, the old ice cream tubs full of pencils and their smell of graphite, the suitcases of old knitting magazines that my Nan used to collect – will be loaded up into a van and transported off to some side street depot where the wheat will be sorted from the chaff. The good stuff will be put up for auction, the non-saleable stuff... well, God knows. Do they bin it? Recycle it? EBay it? I’d hate to think of my Nan’s old pots and pans taking up space in some landfill somewhere – her Wednesday beef stews were amazing. Those pots and pans should be on a pedestal somewhere. Alas, I have neither the room for them nor the pedestal.

So it’s time to let them go. Let it all go. I have said my goodbyes. I have saved what I can. But the bulk of it – the collected sum of all that makes up my Nan’s home – cannot be kept.

I think what I shall miss most is the smell of the house. The smell of each room. My Nan was a great one for putting a bar of Palmolive soap in every drawer so that all her clothes would smell nice. Those bars were still in the drawers last time I looked. And when I stood over them, closed my eyes and inhaled, it was as if I could almost smell the lives of the people that once lived there – my own life intricately and intimately bound up with them.

The house is like a member of the family to me. It has a personality and a place in my memory as beloved and special as those that are inhabited by my Nan, my granddad (or Bampap as we called him) and my Auntie Linda (not that we’d ever dare call her “auntie”) who all lived within its walls. All are dead now. All are gone. The last 5 years took all three of them. Only the house remains. A sad old friend. Its memory failing, its ear straining desperately for the key in the lock that will announce that its former owner’s are returning but finding always only silence.

The front door will never be opened by anyone from my family now. My family's 60 year and my 40 year association with the house is over.

The last few times I have been there have been bittersweet. The comfort of the familiar undercut by the sharp sorrow of the small but quiet emptiness that has settled over the entire house. I have felt like a ghost, felt like I have been haunting the house because my grandparents are not. A troubled ghost walking old rooms and staring fondly at old aspects hoping that they will never change.

Those hopes were always going to be futile. Change has come. On Wednesday the contract with the new owners will undergo “completion”. My Nan’s house with its horde of treasures that so fascinated me as a child will be dead forever. The last of them to go.

But unlike them it will undergo some sort of instant reincarnation. A new family will move in. Will put down new carpets. Put up new curtains and wallpaper. Will bring their own sounds and smells of life.

My ghost will haunt there no longer.

It will return to life. A new day. A new tomorrow, holding much loved yesterdays to its heart.

Is sentimentality such a bad thing? I hope not.

Goodbye old friend.


33 comments:

Tristan said...

A fine tribute, Steve - a piece of writing that will stand as a testament to your lost kin and their home.

Steve said...

Tris: thanks, mate.

Rol said...

A very moving post, not sentimental at all, just honest.

Steve said...

Rol: thank you.

Gina said...

Yes, it was a lovely post. It made me a bit drippy, partly because it made me remember feeling much the same way when my grandparents' house was sold 7 years ago.

It is actually easier once it is over. I felt really really sad like you did because it marked an end. But once it was done and dusted I wouldn't say I forgot (and I had the luxury of not living locally so not seeing the house) but I def moved on immediately when I hadn't expected to do so. I thought it would kind of preoccupy me for longer. So hopefully it will be the same for you.

Big hugs, Steve x

Steve said...

Gina: bizarrely I had to nip up to the house today to recover one of my granddad's possessions that had been put aside for me (I may blog about this later) and stepped inside the part cleared house exepcting to feel gutted. But bizarrely having people there at work, making noise, with the radio on made the house seem more alive than it has done for months. It made me realize that having new people move into the house is what it needs.

Nota Bene said...

Very well written indeed. House clearance is an important step in moving on...

Steve said...

Nota Bene: yes, it feels like closure.

Previously (Very) Lost in France said...

Steve, that made me feel so sad for the time when we did the same to my grandparents house. I took one of my gran's coats home with me and for years I'd bury my face in it just to be reminded of her lovely smell - all florally and Pears soap - until eventually it faded. Bon courage

The Poet Laura-eate said...

No, that is definitely sad Steve.

I had all the same emotions when my own grandparent's house was put up for sale. It seemed so wrong somehow.

They had a really cute 1926 house with a red roof and bay windows - one of the few in the street relatively unscathed by WWII.

Steve said...

Previously (Very) Lost In France: I know what you mean. I have a pair of my Nan's old glasses - such objects are deeply personal and make you feel close to the person who has long gone.

Laura: it does feel wrong in a way but I also have to acknowledge that life has to move on and, as I've said elsewhere, making the house a shrine (as it was in danger of becoming to me) is most definitely wrong. However, that doesn't necessarily make things any less painful.

ArtSparker said...

That is some sweet memorial writing, Steve.

Steve said...

ArtSparker: thank you muchly.

Owen said...

I don't think one can be too sentimental when remembering one's past, one's roots, and when grieving, as one should, about the invevitable losses that must happen of people and places. No, one cannot be too "overly", and your piece here is touching, very touching, I'm sure anyone reading it would feel a flood of their own memories coming back of grandparents and the homes they lived in, and that we visited many times as children growing up, if we were lucky enough to have such people and places in our lives.

Indeed, I think in a case such as yours here today we could generously allow you an hour of wailing and a flood of tears and a mountain of used kleenex, catharsis in the face of loss is positive, can only help the grieving process.

For my mother's parents, I never knew them or where they lived beyond one brief visit to my maternal grandmother's place which I hardly remember. But my father's parents both lived well into their 90's, and we went very often to visit them on weekends or for longer in the summer at their marshland home in New Jersey, a beautiful place, from where I can still remember now the smells and an abundance of details of every room and objects, could go on for hours here if I started to describe them all...

But let it out, let it out, you are lucky to be able to write so well, and writing is catharsis also, so cry my friend, cry, there is nothing shameful nor sentimental in shedding poignant words which fall like tears on a page...

Steve said...

Owen: as eloquent as ever and (as ever) I am gratified by the amount of time and thought you have put into your comment. Thank you. Kleenex at hand.

libby said...

Smashing testament Steve....a new exciting beginning for some other family that means you can also move on, and strangely I drove past the house today Steve..taking my Dad somewhere...how weird and wonderful is t'internet?...and curiously I feel that I want to go and put lovely scented soaps in all my drawers!

Steve said...

Libby: makes you realize that all these online social networks are nothing compared to the real social network in which we all live. Funny thing about the soap... I've been thinking about doing it too.

English Rider said...

This hits home. My Grandfather has been gone for decades and yet I walk by his house whenever I am in England. A huge hilly approach, worth the climb. The fence is still alternately pale blue and cream. The view unchanged, looking down over the water. The smell of soap was his legacy also. There are bars of soap in my closet, between the sweaters. I have not returned to the place where My sister and I sprinkled our parents' ashes. This house contains good memories of all our lives. This house was our anchor in a world of moves. I always imagine that welcoming strength was imparted to the subsequent inhabitants.
There is no shame in honoring the past.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

What a beautiful tribute. I suspect your family's ghosts will pop by from time to time, just to approve the new carpets and curtains, and of course the new owners. And who knows, maybe one day the new owners will open a drawer to be embraced by the aroma of Palmolive.

CJ xx

Alienne said...

I still make the occasional detour to see my grandparents' old house. It looks very different now, but it still brings back the memories, and you'll always have them regardless.

Steve said...

English Rider: you have hit the nail on the head. The house was my anchor. It's been there, part of the family, the backdrop to so much good and bad news, that I never once imagined having to continue life without it. And yet here I am having to. It feels a little as if my world is heaving.

CJ: that's a nice thought. And as my mother said on the phone to me last night, let's hope the new owners are as happy there as my grandparents were for the best part of 60 years.

Alienne: I can see myself making the occasional journey just to "check in". The whole environs has a massive connection with me - dog walks, walks to the local shops with my Nan, walks to the swings... so little has physically changed and yet emotionally it can now never be the same again.

Fran said...

Your post wasn't sentimental at all. Sentimental posts are cliched and unoriginal. This was a great read. Your sadness is tangible, and it's easy to see why, the way you describe the memories. The soap in the drawers thing ... they say smell is the most evocative sense, don't they?

missbehaving said...

Lovely post Steve.
You write so well that the piece isn't just cathartic for you as the writer but for us, the readers who have been where you are now.
I like to keep my painful memories locked in a basement drawer but your tribute made me bring some of them out, get a little light on them and see that there is comfort and pleasure in them too.

Suburbia said...

Really moving, tears in my eyes.

I still haunt my grandmothers house in my dreams sometimes.

Vicky said...

Great piece of writing. The next family to move in may follow in your families footsteps and turn it into a generational home.

femminismo said...

Really lovely Steve. I enjoyed this very much. It brought back so many of my own memories, as experienced by so many others who commented. Good job!

Steve said...

Fran: I've really been very conscious of smell for the last few weeks... it's one of the most evocative senses of all.

MissBehaving: there's always comfort in them. I expect I'll be visiting my own emotional basement for many years to come... it's like having a personal treasure trove.

Suburbia: I know what you mean. I dream about my grandparent's house a lot... and I hope that will continue.

Vicky: that's a nice thought. I hope so.

Femminismo: thank you!

Being Me said...

Sentimentality can never be underestimated. For hand in hand with it goes the ability to possess compassion. And there sometimes doesn't seem enough of that in this world.

I feel strangely drawn to doing the soap-in-drawer thing too now! My grandmother has been gone 10 years. I can still smell that soap smell (must be an English thing to do?) and also the over-boiled veg's and Yorkshire puds and thick gravy, it's a scent that has been singed into the old olfactory nerve I think. And it is so, so comforting - I'm instantly transported back in my mind's eye to the rooms that have now been long changed and recarpeted and overpainted. But they're all still there, in my mind.

So we get the best of both, I think: knowing that new life is being breathed into the home that nurtured us/our family for so long, and we also have it catalogued, room by room, in our memories. I think that's a blessing of a thing to have.

Steve said...

Being Me: I can't quite recall the smell of my Nan's beef stew and yet should I pass by a house leaking similar odours I am instantly transported back to my childhood. I just wish I could retain the smell in my memory. I wish more than anything that I'd asked my Nan for her recipe!

lunarossa said...

Such a great piece of writing and of your soul, Steve! I'm sorry that's all over but as you say, you can start again keeping those lovely memories in your heart. Like you I get very attached to places not only to people, mainly because places are parts of your life too. I was extremely upset when my parents sold my grandparents (and then their) home. One night I dreamt of the house when my nana was still there and when I woke up I could clearly smell my nana's laundry drying in the wind. It was really weird. But I had to let go too. Your own house with your wife and kids is your present and your future now. Start building new memorie...Hugs. Ciao. A.

Steve said...

Lunarossa: yes, I get very attached to places. Even though my grandparents aren't here anymore the house is in some way proof that they were; proof that it wasn't all a dream. I guess that's whay it's so hard to let it go. But I have a few keepsakes from the house and about 600 photos to scan into the computer... enough to bolster and keep my memories safe!

The Crow said...

Your wonderful, loving tribute has me weepy, dadgummit! Sentimentality has its place and this is it. Thank you, Steve, for this; it's beautiful.

Steve said...

The Crow: a compliment indeed - thank you.