It is a mistake to go back to the scenes of your past, except in your memory. In reality the houses are smaller, duller, in fact quite ordinary – while in memory they glow with personality, housing as they do the special events and special people that form the warp and weft of the fabric of life.
All the houses in which I’ve lived have revisited me in my dreams – some more than others. In particular the ‘town’ house in Barmera, and the rented houses in Glenelg and Seaton Park loom large in my subconscious life. For some reason the Barmera ‘town’ house, as opposed to the ‘block’ house, was crucial to my life – we did live there for eight years, the longest stay in any house.
I have visited most of the houses in my adult years, and apart from the houses in Seaton Park and in Rose Park in which I lived in my late teens, they all appeared to be much smaller and meaner than I remembered them. They were huge houses, done up with great taste by my parents who could never leave a house as they found it. Even the rental properties were not exempt from their renovations – floors were stripped and sanded, walls were knocked out (in the ones they owned), bathrooms renovated and kitchens over-hauled. In later years, my father rather relied on my judgement, asking for my opinion on walls that needed removing and windows that needed widening.
My ealiest memories are of the stairs that led from the gate in the picket fence down deep into the garage at the back of Auntie Dot’s place. We used to hang on the fence and peer down into the darkness at the bottom, imagining all sorts of creatures that were waiting to get us if we ventured below. I recall that there were, in particular, a goblin and a dragon. As we grew we discovered that there was a lane that ran along the back of the garage, in fact along the row of houses – a lane we were to use every day on our way home from Kindy and School. Inevitably the day came when we had to go through the garage and up the stairs to Auntie Dot’s, where our mother was visiting. We trembled, hesitated, gathered our courage and began the climb. Halfway up, one of us saw a movement and heard a rustle. A snake!! We flew up those stairs in sheer terror and took quite a considerable amount of calming.
From this one incident evolved a spectacular nightmare that was to recur throughout my childhood and adolescence. I was running along the back lane as fast as I could with a dragon pursuing me, slithering and scrambling up those steps to reach the safety of the yard. But I was unable to get through the gate at the top, always kept locked to prevent little children from falling down the steps. Of course, I always awoke at this point in the dream, sweating and shaking. As I grew older and recognized the dream as it began I learnt to waken myself, tell myself that it was only a dream, and go back to sleep after an interval of intense concentration about something, anything else.
I remember climbing up a street towards Big Judy’s house in Pascoe Vale as a toddler. There was a low brick wall outside her house which was two-storeyed, with a curved glass wall around the stairwell – very Art Deco. She had a Scottish walking doll as tall as me, dressed in a kilt, with a tam on its head, and lovely long lashes. My sister was very covetous of this doll, but I much prefered the house.
My father built a large Art Deco house in Henley Beach, South Australia, after we moved there from Victoria. It was innovative, set up high on the hilly block with a double brick garage set below but in front, with a concrete slab roof that formed a balconied patio. The drive went up beside it to the side of the house, plus there was a double drive into the garage below. A rock garden bordered the property beside these constructions, and the back yard was big, lawned, with swings and a sand-pit for my sister, brother and I to play in.
The lounge room had a curved wall with large windows, the kitchen had the latest modern equipment, a new round-topped fridge, electric cooker, and black and white tiled floor. The bathroom was amazing. The bath and hand basin were pink, set into a black-tiled room – the ceramic wall tiles when wiped with a child’s wet soapy hand played rainbows of colours across its surface. The bedrooms were lovely, and there was a utility room out the back where my mother held playgroup for local children. We sat in a circle as she sang in her glorious voice:
Good morning to you little boy/girl, little
boy/girl, little boy/girl, good morning to
you little boy/girl, what’s your name?
The child addressed would sing out their name. When it came to our turns, my brother and I would answer : Hector and Georgina, which were not our names. Then we’d all laugh. I have no idea why we chose those names – it’s not a name I particularly liked. I think it was really done to get a response from our mother who was sharing our time with all those other children.
I remember one Guy Fawke’s night when I hid in the bathroom from the bangers, with Pride, our Collie dog. I watched the Catherine Wheels, and the Rockets, and the Roman Fountains, and played happily with Sparklers, but as soon as the Bangers and the Jumping Jacks came out I was off, with the dog close behind me. I refused to come out until all the explosions had stopped.
My sister had a very bad accident at that house. There was no railing around the top of the garage roof, and one day she fell off it, down onto the concrete drive below. Dad was distraught and angry with himself – she was his favourite, and he’d caused her harm by not putting in a railing. Of course, she shouldn’t have been messing around that close to the edge anyway, but she had spirit and was always pushing the boundaries. He installed a rail after that.
My doll suffered a cracked skull in the garden bed there – I’d left her out accidentally overnight and the frost was so cold that it robbed her of all her colour and cracked the back of her head. I painted pink cheeks, lips and nails on her with mother’s nail polish, but could do nothing with her head. She was my favourite and I loved her dearly. Even now, having had to replace her with an identical doll when she got plastic cancer – a condition where the plastic shrivelled and gave off a vinegar smell – I could not throw her away. She is stored in a bag in a cupboard in the spare room. And I can’t feel the same attachment to the replacement doll, no matter how identical it is.
My brother nearly ‘drownded’ in the estuary outlet nearby while we lived there, or perhaps when we were visiting Auntie Rite as we often did on trips down from Barmera. We would roam along the waterway at the back to the estuary – the outlet had huge sloping concrete walls, with grooves for steps down its sides. We loved to follow them playing at being giants, seeing who could step from one to another without slipping, or missing any. My sister, by dint of her older age, was the best at it. One day as we searched for tadpoles along the creek leading to the outlet, my brother slipped on the bank and fell in.
He couldn’t swim, and neither could I, but my sister had done some swimming. Auntie Rite’s son was with us, and he jumped in and saved my brother as he gurgled and splashed about. A man walking his dog came and helped us, and carried my brother home to my parents, who were horrified that we had been down at the outlet in the first place. We weren’t exactly allowed to go there. And, after that, we were strictly forbidden from going near the place ever again. Auntie Rite’s son was a hero, while we were in disgrace. The fact that he took us there was beside the point.
I remember on one of our visits to Auntie Rite’s that we were sent to the bakery at the end of the road to get bread for her. It was quite a walk for children, past many houses including Auntire Dot’s and Anne and Charles’ place – they were named after the prince and princess, and were about the same age as them. We teased a dog behind a big brush fence as we trudged to the corner shop. There is no way children of today would be sent on such an errand. We walked home hugging the warm bread to our chests.
When we reached Auntie Rite’s we sat inside her fence and picked at the rounded front surface of the loaf – just to level it with the crust. We picked a bit more, tearing off strips of the warm bread and chewing it delicately. Eventually we had hollowed the whole loaf out and were left with only the crust shell. Horrors! Now we had to go and tell Auntie Rite. And what would Mother say?!
They were very angry with us, and we were immediately sent back to the bread shop with our pocket money to buy another loaf for Auntie Rite. Mother was embarrassed, and Auntie Rite thought it was funny – we could hear her laughing as we hurried down her steep drive to her gate, on our way back to the Bakery. We laughed as we walked along, picturing the empty loaf sitting, still wrapped around with tissue paper, on Auntie Rite’s kitchen table.
(C) Jud House 25/01/2013
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