My childhood played out in many locations, across time and place. My attitude and expectations changed as the years passed, as I grew taller, perhaps wiser. One place remains fixed in the centre, with one person the constant. My Grandma Kelley’s house.
|Kelley's Place circa 1952|
Over the past 30 years little has changed to the house, unlike the people who walked through its doors. The floorboards creaked as early as I can remember. They still creaked the last day I stood there. The painted red concrete footpath, stayed red and painted. The carport took on a lean in its later years, but long after the car was sold, it faithfully housed first the metal bins, then the plastic bins, finally the green wheelie bin.
The wooden back step may have weathered and greyed and began bending at the edges, but it always marked the boundary between the garden - with its spreading apple tree, with apples so small and tart no grandchild would eat them - and the house, with its lino floor and lace curtains.
Grandma’s house was a window to the past, though I was in my 30s before I realised this. The kitchen still housed a working wood-fired stove, and until the end, baked dinners, rice pudding and pumpkin scones were cooked in it. In the laundry - a copper – where my Grandma would push the sheets and towels with a long wooden paddle. She was in her 70s before she accepted a washing machine.
A freestanding bath, long before they became fashionable again. Bunk beds in the second bedroom for the grandchildren. Uncomfortable, hard, arm chairs in the lounge, adorned with hand-made embroidered doilies and prickly cushions. The wooden clock on the mantle, with its echoing song every fifteen minutes. The good room: where we were not allowed to play. The room would give us away, tell tales to Grandma. Even a single footstep on its polished wooden floor would send all the crystal in the china cabinet tinkling and rattling, and she would hear us and call us out.
Chenille bedspreads and flannel sheets. Mattresses far older than I was, bumpy in all the wrong places, yet somehow producing a sound night’s sleep. In the back of the cupboard, where we were not supposed to look, a polystyrene head with a wig of curled brown hair. That was Grandma’s good hair.
In the towering sideboard, small brandy glasses with coloured glass etchings on the side. We were allowed to fill and refill and refill again with milk, replacing them each time on the delicate leaf shaped platter they called home. Up high, further than any of us could reach even with a kitchen chair, glass jars filled with lollies. They taunted us as children. As teenagers they were conquered.
The backyard was wild and enormous. An ancient wooden swing, rusted even before I was born. A makeshift clothesline, still in use after 50 years. A cubby made of asbestos, though we neither knew this, nor cared. Wire fencing separated the grass from the garden, overflowing with daisies, an almond tree. Grandad’s shed. I never met him but I would have liked to. More than the house, his memory was in the shed.
Further down, another yard. A massive fig tree, barely contained by the fence and the sky, dominated the chicken yard. Daily trips to collect the eggs, still warm. You could hear the traffic from Canning Highway only metres down the road, yet we could have been a million miles away.
It was another world; it still is in my memory. Stronger than any other place in my history, the memories rush at me. The smell of her face powder. The dull red embers of the fire the morning after. The red and pink geraniums in their pots on the front verandah.
I have some of those geraniums now, growing in my garden. And the daisies, to my husband’s disgust. They do have a habit of taking over. The china cabinet still tells tales on small children, the glass shelves rattling ominously as little feet thunder past. The wooden clock has been modernised and runs on batteries now. I don’t have to wind it daily as my Grandma once did. Its melancholy tune now fills my house.
In my backyard, a brand new – asbestos free – cubby house. A small plaque shows it is named for her. Her great grandchildren are still too young to understand, but I will make sure they do. My childhood, so wrapped up in this amazing woman and her amazing house now lives on through my own children. In Kelley’s Place.
*This is the story published in the West Australian on December 31, 2011. The theme for this year's short story competition was 'a sense of place'.