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.