Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Houses and homes. Oh, and hearts.

It's true, what they say, about home being where the heart is.

Today I drove with Dad to Palmy, so we could do the very last bits of cleaning in the house he and Mum have lived in since 1998. A lot of memories took place in that house, but it's not the house which makes the memories - it's the people.

I drove from Auckland with Chris and Bex to help Mum and Dad shift from their other place in Palmy to Russell St. Someone took a photo of Dad, Uncle Mike, Grandad and Chris standing in the garage at Batt St, and I've kept the photo close: these are the men who made the biggest impression on me while I was growing up and turning into an adult.

That was the house from which we buried Nana and Grandad. We've buried other ones from there too... and many, many times I've backed down that driveway with a bucket, scrubbing brush, flowers and water, heading to the cemetary to visit (and spruce up) the graves.

We had Grandad's 80th birthday there (a 'hat' theme), and we went from there to Valentines for lunch for one of Grandad's more recent birthdays when we were actually most interesting in another man at the table: this was the occasion where we first met (or got to spend time with) Amy's lovely man (now husband), Vaega.

Matiu was a newborn baby there, he ate his first kai there, he pulled himself up to stand and lean on the low outside chairs Dad built, and he practiced climbing up and down stairs at the back door step. He has spent hours in the backyard there: kicking balls, playing with water/ stones/ dirt, riding small bikes, helping with jobs, splashing in a bath or paddling pool, feeding goldfish, and so on. Just before Megan went back to work, she and Matiu went for a few days holiday in Palmy and when I drove up to pick them up I remember walking in and seeing that the dynamic had shifted: Matiu and Dad (whom he would later call Koko - 'Koko! Koko!' has echoed around those walls more than once) had fallen in love... with each other.

I've written pages and pages and pages in that house... they moved there while I was working on my MA at Auckland, and since then I've written a PhD, a book, chapters, articles, poems. One night a couple of years ago I sat up late with Arini and Ra at the table in the dining room as we worked on the final versions of the papers we'd deliver at a conference at Massey the next day. But it's not only writing... I've sewed in that house, and knitted, and cooked. One year, Mum and I decided to turn the front outdoor porch into 'Tuscany,' a name which stuck even though we're still not sure we pulled off the sense of Italy in the middle of the Manawatu.

I've eaten in that house... boy, have I eaten! BBQs done out the back by the high table, picnics, roasts, Dad's bacon and egg pies, Christmas dinners, birthday cakes, fruit from Hawke's Bay, crayfish from Mahia. Feijoas, lemons, tomatoes from the trees and plants in the back.

I've had fights there, and cried. I've been heartbroken. I've been sad. I've been very, very angry in that house... but I've also been happy and content and settled. I've talked about new loves of my life, and I've admitted that yet another relationship has ended. I've heard good and bad news, cried happy and sad tears, slept. It's been a mythical base while I've lived on the other side of the world, and it has been a regular destination when I've lived two hours up the road. I've driven and caught trains and bussed and flown there. I've driven yellow, white, blue, green and red cars up that driveway... and I've stood countless times at the small porch by the front door, waving as people back out onto the street and away.

Today it was our turn, and there was noone there to wave to us as Dad slowly pulled out of the driveway. That house is empty tonite. That house is no longer home.

The heart doesn't stay with the house... it stays with the many-peopled memories. And those have a home in my heart.

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