As we get older, we learn more about ourselves and we grow to accept what it is about us that makes us ‘us’. I now know I am a creature of habit and I like having roots. My hubby, recently sick of the constant Yorkshire rain, freezing wind and dreary greyness, rang me from work and suggested we move to Australia. I laughed, thinking he was joking – he wasn’t! He had a job lined up if he wanted it – working for a friend’s marketing company – and did I think we should rent out the house, pack up our things and go? The kids were young, so it was the perfect time to do it, he explained – once they got to secondary school, then we’d be stuck here.
But the thing is, I like being stuck here. I like having roots firmly entrenched in the Yorkshire soil. I love building a life for us in this grim, wet, cold but incredibly beautiful place. I realise that I have always felt the pull of home. Even when I lived in London for a number of years in my twenties, I only ever felt at home when I was back in Yorkshire, in my parents’ house, being looked after. It felt safe. It felt like home.
My parents moved from Yorkshire back up to Scotland, where they were both originally from, about 12 years ago. They moved for a number of reasons, all perfectly good reasons and the right ones for them at the time. But, I remember, in the months after they had moved out of my childhood family home, feeling bereft. I felt truly lost and rootless, despite being in my late twenties, living in London in a rented flat with a steady boyfriend, good job…bla bla bla. I felt like I’d lost a limb.
The feeling is still there a little. Sometimes I will visit my brother or friends in my old village and I will drive past our childhood home and see my mum’s homemade curtains still hanging at the living room window. I remember the plays (usually musicals with a bit of modern dance thrown in) I would put on in the garden, roping in my sister and other friends (you know who you are!) to play the lesser characters, charging our neighbours 20p for the privilege of coming to watch our performances. I remember learning to drive and Mum teaching us how to turn into the driveway – how to get the car lined up correctly so we wouldn’t scrape the gate posts. I remember hide and seek with all the neighbourhood kids, running between all of our gardens – the summers seeming to last forever.
So many of my childhood memories are in that house and in that garden that I am envious of the new (I say new – they’ve been there 12 years!) owners. I always want to knock on the door and have a look round to see what has changed, if anything. Looking at my mum’s curtains still hanging at the living room bay window, I am confident many rooms will still look as they did when I was last there. When I walked around the rooms my parents had lovingly repaired, restored (it was a bit run down with falling down ceilings when we moved in apparently) and decorated for the last time, trying to commit it all to memory. Rooms where we had argued, laughed, cried, shouted, screamed, danced, played. Rooms which must surely hold the echoes of our childhood in their walls. We must have had an impact on them somehow, like they did on us. Our childhood squeals of excitement from each Christmas morning must be etched into the fabric of its bricks and mortar. When I walked round that last time I remember trying to imprint all of its nooks and crannies into my brain, I tried to ensure that I would never forget any of the times we had had in that house, good, bad and in-between.
When I was up visiting Mum and Dad a couple of weeks ago, we were looking at old photos and I found some pictures my parents must have taken just before they moved out. Pictures of all the main rooms at our old house and I was taken aback by them….The rooms looked smaller than I remembered the decor looked less fabulous that I remembered, but it still looked like home.
I passed the photos to Mum to look through. “Do you recognise this house Mum?” I asked. “We lived there for a very long time, look here’s your lovely kitchen,” I prompted. But, she flicked through the pile of photos that day with her un-seeing eyes. She ummed and ahhed a little, but there was no recognition there of the home she had lived, loved and worked in for 25 years.
I passed her a photo then of her mother, my granny. A lovely photo of her in a frame, smiling out of the picture – her cheeky eyes twinkling. “Now then,” Dad said to her “do you know who this is?”
“It looks like a grandma,” says my mum.
It is in those moments I want to either laugh or shout at her. I want to shake her hard, so that the dementia is loosened and bits of it fall off her, its grip on her loosened. I want to tell her to stop now, to stop pretending and attention-seeking, that we’ve all had enough and can we go back to normal please, as we have all learnt a lot from this year-long episode and we are definitely better people because of it, so well done you Mum. But, enough is enough….let’s drop the act. Let’s resume our happy, healthy, family life where you are the competent, fun-loving granny again and I can roll my eyes at how you are always right, or how you criticize my lasagne, however subtly you do it. The small child still inside me believes that this is what I need to do – this is the part of me that still thinks I am invincible and will never die, the part of me that, as a child thought that if there were ever another world war, I would lie down and pretend to be dead. Simple. I would definitely survive. That small child in me, believes that this can all be made better somehow, possibly in the same way that no one can see you if you put your hands over your eyes. That at some moment, I will wake up, like they do in the movies, and it will all be a bad dream.
I am a mum of 3 now, I am clinging on to what little is left of my youth and I am a responsible grown up. My hubby and I own our own home, we work hard at running our own business and we do all the things I thought I would do as a grown up. I hold and attend dinner parties; we go for family walks on Sundays; we encourage our children to play sport and I am forever at football matches, tennis practice or out in the wet, cold Yorkshire weather with Martha on a pony. Yet, despite all this, there is a small childlike part of me that yearns to be home, that yearns to be back in that house with the bay window with my parents looking after me. To be enveloped in the warmth of them. Looked after by Mum, entertained by Dad (usually cards, or scrabble or if we were lucky, Cluedo), walking the hills, eating good food, enjoying each other’s company, feeling safe. There is still a slight fear inside me that I am not ready to be cast out into the big wide world on my own – I still need my parents. I still need my mum.
I wonder if there will ever come a time when I don’t need my mum. I don’t think so. I think, no matter how old we get, we will always yearn for the security, warmth and unquestionable love of a mother.
My mum can’t really show her love anymore. There are glimpses of it every so often, but it is now only in an occasional smile, or a glance. It is no longer evidenced in her beautifully prepared 3-course dinners (always with a choice of homemade puddings), her willingness to drop anything to help any of us out – to travel 400 miles if needed to babysit, or to make blinds, to decorate, to help in whatever way we needed her.
So, I don’t think there is any chance I will be agreeing to move to Australia any time soon. My hubby’s plans to emigrate to some far flung (warm and sunny) land have been shelved, for now. I have always loved having roots, even before this awful thing started happening to my mum, but now that is has, now that this bastard, cruel thing is robbing me of my amazing mum, my memories, my roots are even more important to me.
One day, perhaps, I will go and knock on our old front door. I will take my children and show them where I grew up. I will show them the best hiding places in the house and in the garden. I will show them where I used to dangle and swing on the stairs. I will show them where Granny used to mark our heights against the door frame in the kitchen, charting our growth every few months, our initials, C, S or E next to the tiny number we had reached, marked in pencil. I will show them where my mum and dad buried my 3 hamsters and my beloved rabbit (under his favourite bush in the corner of the garden) after they had passed away. I will show them where Granny used to stand in the warm summer sunshine (in her bikini) doing her ironing, with our Labrador on duty, always nearby. I will show them the wardrobe I used to sit in to hide from my siblings and the world. It was my secret hideaway when I was sad or needed to be on my own. Maybe if I jump in there, close my eyes and wish for it hard enough, all this will turn out to be a bad dream after all.
It isn’t though, I know that, of course I do. Australia can wait, perhaps forever. I need to ensure the story of my mum and the granny she once was, and the granny my kids still deserve to have, will come alive for them through my memories. For that, I need my wet, cold, dreary, beautiful Yorkshire. It is where I have roots and my roots are, what make me ‘me’.