Sometimes, when I am very tired, perhaps returning late, I imagine myself going home to a place where I lived many years before. I know the way the key turns in the lock, the familiar smell of the hallway, where the light switches are, and know, without counting, how many steps it will take me to reach the kitchen door. It is visceral, engrained in my body’s memory. Sometimes, I imagine myself going home to my parents’ house, to the way things were in my childhood many years ago. I can hear the kitchen clock tick, know the sound and rhythm of the dog’s paws on the lino, the sound of the boiler. This sense of homing is so powerful it can take me back to an old layer of memory. I could step back into my past.
I have kept an old key to the front door of the house where I live now. It is a relic, familiar in my fingers, but will not open the new door we had installed. Perhaps, if I don’t think too hard, the old key will take me into the house as it was a few years ago. Changes that have happened gradually will ease away to an earlier version of the home where I have lived for years. A place where I have fewer memories.
Family homes of childhood have stronger memory traces than one would expect in relation to the time spent in them. The homing signals are powerful.
I have an aerial photograph of my father’s house, taken when he still lived in it. He is not in the photo, but is most certainly inside the house. The following is a poem that never quite settled. I find myself returning to it – coming back to the family home and imperfectly re-casting it.
Like a child’s picture – I see your bungalow in 2 D.
The neat hedge you planted around the garden wall
is a crepe paper border. The geometric lawns
are sparse, like threadbare greengrocer’s grass.
That peach tree, which never gave fruit, sprawls in the lazy heat.
Your blue Metro is on the drive. A lawnmower waits to be cleaned.
There are surely garden tools by the back step.
You’ll be inside, nursing a mug of black tea.
Outside the familiar kitchen door,
I’ll see your empty boots, the worn coconut mat, a few straggly leaves…
Later, I know you’ll go back out, pop the car into the garage,
put the lawnmower away.
You’ll cut down the peach tree sometime soon.
But the low privet hedge you trim so neatly for a few more years
will eventually grow too high to see over from the street.