The house cried the day we left, wailing out its loneliness and the small tragedies of passing time. At first it spooked us, then we realised that it was the just the wind blowing through the open door and squeezing out through gaps around the ill-fitting u-PVC windows our stepmother had installed when she’d been offered a special, but probably not lower, price by a telephone salesman.
When our step-mother moved into a care home, family friends, the fake “aunties” of our childhood, expected my sister and I to find clearing the house upsetting. In fact the house that was our childhood home had left our lives more than two decades before when our widowed father remarried. We were in our early twenties then and had left home. Our father considered us independent, so felt no need to consult us on changes to the house. Deep down we still felt like children needing a secure haven. Each time we returned more had changed. Our step-mother imposed her taste: sterile beige in place the patterns my mother chose for their ability to mask the dirt a family brought in with their comings and goings; carefully arranged nicknacks in place of randomly placed clutter.
It was the house we grew up in, but we had been filtered out of it. When we visited we laughed at the faux Grecian statues in the garden we had played in and made a game of re-arranging the ornaments when no-one was looking. But this was just bravado. Sometimes I woke at night dreaming that my mother was wandering round the house asking why they had thrown out all of her things. I couldn’t answer her.
As we cleared the house, we found few remains of our past. What we kept was mostly everyday items too useful to bin: envelopes, loo cleaner, teabags. Now and again we discovered small items that made us stop: my baby teeth in a matchbox in the bureau drawer, notepads of my sister’s drawings, postcards sent by our grandparents from holidays in a lost world. The past drawing us back like quicksand.
In the end closing the door for the last time stopped the howling. It was the key which finally located home, not in my step-mother’s house but in the house where my own family is growing up.