Those of you who spent most of your childhood in the same home may know how it feels to revisit that home years later, as an adult. But what if the story is more complicated than that? What if you not only miss your childhood home but also plan to live there again? Today’s guest, Jasmine Georget–one of that treasured group of friends from my own former home–talks about what happened when she tried to reclaim the home she had lost.
I came across my childhood home on a realtor’s website. The owner, a friend of a friend, had died suddenly and I heard rumours that the house would be for sale. Still, it took me by surprise. For years I dreamed of the day that I could call it mine again. I always thought that I needed to own it if I wanted to hold on to my memories. Since the day we packed up our final load of odds and ends in the Volkswagen T3 I have wanted it back. It was December, almost dark, and I tried to hide my tears as we drove up the driveway for the last time.
It sits majestically on the side of a mountain. The property is scattered with huckleberries and Falls Creek tumbles through a mossy canyon down below. There are hiking trails and two beautiful springs. The forest around the house was my playground. It had the best sledding hills and climbing trees, nowhere else could ever be better. It was above the clouds, the sun always shone. The house was warm and bright and happy. There was a little hidey hole under the stairs that my Dad built me. It had a door and a light. I kept my tiny rocking chair and a giant pile of books in there. My little brothers were not allowed in. I still have that tiny rocking chair. My daughters read in it now.
I spent my life looking back at that house. The rosy sentimental glow of a happy childhood surrounded it, but mixed with that is a stinging pain. My father died just before I turned six, and his memories are all tangled up in that place. He loved that property, and built most of that house. He took me berry picking and mushroom gathering and tree climbing, then his ashes fed the berries and the mushrooms and the trees that we loved.
And then there’s that spot. That spot on the lawn, right between the cherry tree and the red rhododendron, at the edge of the hill, where I left my childhood standing. Where I saw my Dad for the very last time. He was flying, he soared over the house. My body knows where that spot is, it will never forget. He flew low, looking down at us. The April sun shone as I waved, and he made the plane rock ever so slightly from side to side, ‘waving’ back. Last contact. My last earthly connection to a man who’s absence shaped me more than his presence. That spot, where I watched his plane disappear into the distance.
His plane came down in a pasture not too far away. We visited the crash site once. There were still tiny little bits of metal and fibreglass scattered on the ground, too small to cleanup. I picked up a few fragments of twisted metal and put them in my pocket. I think they might have gone through the wash and disappeared. I tried to hang on to everything that was his, but slowly all those little things disappeared. Each year they seemed less and less important until all that I had left were a few of his marbles. Still I wished that the big thing that he had loved could be mine some day. I didn’t even bother to apply for jobs in Vancouver after I finished my diploma in fashion design. I moved back home and started working retail. I had to stay close so I could be ready. I got married, we bought a house, we now have two beautiful girls. I waited ten years.
When I look at the listing pictures all of the light from my childhood is gone. I see a dingy, decrepit house that needs an unimaginable amount of work. I see the same bathroom sink that my Mum chose when my Dad finally added on an indoor bathroom. I see peeling paint and rot on the beautiful deck and pergola my step-dad built when he moved in with us. I see a chimney that still needs to be replaced, and the siding doesn’t quite line up on each of the additions. I see drywall that still sags under the leaky window, and the same peeling linoleum that I played on as a baby. I see a house that didn’t quite get started right, but instead of going back and fixing the problems it kept limping forwards. I see the door to my hidey hole and the rough wood wall where my piano used stand. I still have that piano. My daughters play it now.
I also see that the cherry tree is a leafless skeleton, and the rhododendron is gone. All my landmarks have been erased, nothing is left on that shaggy lawn to mark where I stood. I can’t go back, I don’t belong there anymore.
But there will always be that spot on the lawn, where the ghost of my childhood stands alone, watching her father fly out over the valley.
Jasmine Georget has lived in and around Nelson BC for most of her life. She is a seamstress and occasionally teaches classes on fabric dyeing. She has two young children and spends her slivers of free time writing.