Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Traces of Me

I went looking for myself on the weekend. Didn't know what I would find. Desperate to find even a trace of me.

On Sunday afternoon, I went to an Open Home. Not just any Open Home however. This was the home of my youth - from age 7 - 21. This was where I lived through so many experiences and events that shaped me.

It was the venue for hundreds of backyard cricket matches, On the Mat bouts and endless re enactments of stirring epics like Robin Hood or the Fighting Prince of Donegal. It marked my transition to Intermediate school, College and University, each new learning opportunity signalled by a new route to travel and a new form of transport - from my green Raleigh Cruiser, to my second hand blue 12 speed, to the redoubtable Suzuki FA50 (cos that was its top speed). It was the scene of disappointments and triumphs - photos that I still have capture these - the death of pets (not the actual death) to winning the top award at my primary school. And it was where my Dad came home to die, except he didn't make it even that far. I moved out soon after.

The house had been substantially renovated and repainted. In some rooms I could have been anywhere surrounded by monochromatic acceptability. In other places I could still make out the dark cedar brown paint around the edges of windows - I grew very familiar with that paint over the years.

It was a surprisingly emotional experience. Memories flooded in. So much to remember. I smiled at little things that remained - the ugly bathroom benchtop, somehow surviving the ethnic cleansing of renovation. Little things like taps and toilet window glass, pavers and washing lines. A vivid memory from the smallest room of a challenge to a God I didn't yet believe in. But so little of me.

I began to search. Surely something remained beyond memories. My room had become faceless and while the window so often used as a means of egress might still have accomodated me, it didn't seem like it was my place to do it any longer.

In vain I searched under the deck for something of me - this had been the setting for many a clubhouse - I wondered if I dug up the floor whether the keepsakes I had buried would still be there. It didn't seem like a great idea for an Open Home. Surely I had scraped my initials somewhere under there - nagging memories of tagging the space tugged at my recollection but I couldn't find anything. No trace. Of me.

And then it came to me. I knew somewhere where the frequency of my passing had worn a memory into the structure of the house. No one would know. It must still be there.

The house in typical 70's style had a flat iron roof. Which made it great for climbing and hiding and exploring (and jumping off). I had looked for evidence of my descent from the roof - pock-marks in a piece of lawn where the slope of the section and the position of the roof made the jump to the ground acceptably dangerous. If you could time it just right, the ground would be soft enough to absorb great heel prints, nearly up to your ankle! But nothing remained.

But what about the access point? Where years of climbing onto the roof had begun the inevitable pulling away of the roofing material from the main structure. Round the back of the garage, the retained slope was just close enough for a young boy to jump up and grab the lip of the roof. Over the years it had become easier, more of a vault than a mad scramble! I ran my hand along the edge of the roof (funny how low it had become...) starting at the far end where I had never been until I found me. Traces of me. Of my passing remained.

Memories I have aplenty. But somehow it mattered that the house remembered me. That some trace of my passing remained. That it was so small didn't seem to matter.


Steve Goble said...

Great post. I love the idea of the house remembering you.

Karen said...

Brett --

I remember that house well and went on that search with you as I read your post, willing you to find...something. I'm glad you did. It made me think of my own childhood home. Mum has been trying to move house for 15 years, but Dad built that house and we all grew up there and I'm not sure he could ever leave it. Now, I think I understand better. And if they were to leave, without me seeing it again, would I go back looking for a trace of me? Where would I look and what would I find?

I don't think the house itself bears any mark from me. I did glue a watermelon seed to the wood siding once, round the corner of deck on the hidden side. But most of my influence directly affected the furniture rather than the house structure itself: chopping cheese on tables without a breadboard underneath, hot cups on cold tabletops, etc. I don't remember the kind of intensity of play that you describe, although I did search incessantly in the base of the grandfather clock, certain there was a secret passage to somewhere. Perhaps in time, whether my parents move house or not, I will creep back to that clock and reach inside, just to smell the passage of time and feel the crinkle of old family papers stuffed there over centuries.... And there will be a piece of me there, I'm sure of it.

Peace, friend.

BJ said...

Hey Karen,

Thanks for dropping by! The colours have changed as well - its not the same red brown that so assaulted the eyes...

I too remember your house...

Its like we were an item or something!

Karen said...

As I get older, the traces of long ago are comforting. How about this diary entry from Saturday, January 26, 1980:

"Came up to Red Beach (Pinewoods Motor Camp) with Agnews. Went roller skating. Joneses came to visit. Bakers arrived."

followed closely on January 29, 1980 by

"Hunted and hunted and hunted! for secret passages at Agnews' house. Joneses came to play."

with another exciting episode a year later on January 31, 1981:

"Today I went to Karen Agnew's because she was convinced there was a smuggler at her house."

Has the trail gone cold after nearly 30 years -- or is that evidence of more traces of you?!