Do memories die when no one remembers them?
Are they real, or only an illusion, crafted by longing;
embellished creatively until they no longer resemble a past inaccessible to us?
I can't answer. I don't know.
My grandparents' house
no longer exists, but my memories of it will continue as long as I do.
A modest suburban family house of its time, it was built of weather board and set high on three metre wooden stumps to catch the breezes. Built around 1890 it had already served at least two other families, I guess, before it was purchased by my grandparents in 1950. By then it was on its last legs. In this climate and in this area, what termites don't infest, moisture and wood rot eventually take care of.
The house was demolished in the 1970s, I think, along with one or two of its neighbours, to make way for an apartment complex. Only a very few originals of that era survive. They have become fashionable, having had a lot of money spent on them winding back the ravages of insects, time and climate.
Viewed from the road it was nothing special: no different from hundreds of others in the 1950s in the Brisbane suburb of Toowong. High set and fringed with low trimmed hedges, it conformed to a stereotype, now forgotten. It had a gabled roof, casement windows shaded by pressed metal awnings, and an enclosed verandah. There was a small garden either side of the path leading to the front steps. A timber framed chain wire fence stood waist high across the front of the property, and there were two gates: one opening on to the path to the front steps and a larger one from which two concrete strips led to a garage under the house.
I think of it, even now, as a sanctuary of sorts; a place set aside from the rest of the world; safe and secure, yet packed full of exotic things to admire and corners to explore. I remember tumbling out of my parents' car, eager to explore Nanna and Grandpa's kingdom.
As with most houses of that time there was a brass door bell; the kind you had to twist to make it ring. We must always have been expected though, because I can't remember the bell ever having to be used. Two happy faces always waited behind the door.
Inside was a genoa lounge suite that was to a five year old, a collection of huge, padded, comfortable single chairs and one longer three seater. It was a great place to sit and be read to or listen to stories. There was no television in Brisbane in the late 1950s. On the wall was a small framed print that fascinated me. The image of an old boat drawn up to a creek bank among trees seemed like a gateway to a fairy land. I saved it from the tip years later and still have it hanging in my house. I don't pass it by without revisiting the memory of my grandparents' house.
A large valve radio was the focus of household entertainment in the house. It stood in the dining room. Maybe that was so they could listen during meal times. That old radio (AWA was the brand I think) mesmerised me. I can remember clearly sitting on the floor listening to someone singing “The Teddy Bears' Picnic”. They say smells are the longest lasting memories. Songs and music from childhood are also up there.
The dining room walls were timber of course; tongue and groove. Each timber slat fitted snugly into the next. A silky oak dining table stained dark brown, with a vase in the centre, was accompanied by six chairs. The radio sat against the wall adjacent to the back steps. There was a sliding wooden framed stained glass window above it that was usually opened during the day. From there you could see the large mango tree in the back yard, the water tank (also raised on stumps), and the clothes line that needed to be propped up with a stick. The floor was covered by linoleum. At one end of the dining room was the bathroom and toilet. The bath an old enamel tub, the toilet cistern activated by a linked metal chain.
A treasure trove of objects, strange and wonderful to my five year old eyes, was scattered along each surface and in every corner. None of them would have had much intrinsic value, but they fed my imagination. Amidst these things, my grandmother would sit and play with me. It seemed she had all the time in the world for that.
Down the stairs and under the house led into another wonderland of tools and storage boxes. I played there with toy cars in the dirt happily ignorant of any risk of snakes and spiders. Grandparents didn't worry about such things then. Wooden stumps were totem poles ready for whimsical decoration with paint from Grandpa's old tins. I don't think he was forcing a smile when he found me doing that. Maybe he was.
Brass door knobs, an old radio, a mango tree in the back yard, and a house full of kindness, delights and treasures. Such are my memories of my grandparents' house. Are they real? Do they have any enduring value?
Sometime, somewhere and somehow, someone may find and dust off an archive of collected memories that make sense and significance of the scheme of things. Or do old memories cast off across the lake to the homelands of their ancestors, as did the elves in 'Lord of the Rings', never to be seen again in the land of the living?
Either way, the memories I keep of my grandparents' house are precious. I don't know and don't care how accurately they match the circumstances of the time.
As to whether those memories will outlast me, it's kind of beside the point, isn't it?