My parents are moving out of the house that they have always lived in. The house that my two brothers and I grew up in. The quarter-acre block is becoming harder to manage. Mum tells me that dad, a consummate gardener, would rather roam the internet than tend vegetables. What white man do you know who can still squat comfortably at 88? He’s tired of it now. I get it.
This sale has been traumatic. Perhaps less so for my parents who are off on their next adventure. Doubly so for me because I can’t get home to help, or to say goodbye to 413. The borders between Australia and New Zealand are still closed, and shortly I’m going even further away, to Belfast for a new job. In all likelihood I will never go in the house, my house, again.
Many people were interested in the property. You might not have had the opportunity to have a look. Let me take you there.
Drive towards the Port Hills
Leave the city, heading towards the Port Hills. Follow the road around the base of the hills then past paddocks out past the new suburb Westmorland. Turn left off Cashmere Road just on that slight rise in the road.
The driveway curves to the right and is unexpectedly steep, put your foot down on the gas. On your right, a low shale wall of Halswell stone – grey and warm tones, flecked like birds’ eggs. A row of old roses, the lawn. On the other side, thick green shrubs.
The driveway suddenly levels out at the garage. The house is above you. It’s a no-nonsense building, early 1960s, white concrete stucco with a brown skirt, large picture windows gazing out across Canterbury Plains towards the mountains. You can take the wide and relaxed stairs to your right up to the large terrace, or the short steep stairs to your left to the dining room and kitchen. We’re going to the dining room, the usual route.
The sliding door opens to the smell of home. How can I describe this? Furnishings. Cleaning products. Food. Coffee. It’s a lovely smell, a smell that belongs no place else.
It’s in the small spaces
How not to make this sound like a real estate add? Magnificent! Charming! Spacious! Light-filled! I can see you now, standing in the lounge, mouth agape at the view. But come with me. Let me show you things house-hunters don’t see.
There’s the hot water cupboard where, after midnight, we watched Mandy give birth to four… five… six kittens! There’s the boy’s room where I read Rupert the Bear to my little brother at bedtime. The kitchen cupboards with the old baking tins I filled every weekend with cake and slices. The skinny little toilet off the hall where I climbed in through the louvres when I snuck home from school early.
The formal lounge where Mr Mesman, our neighbour, would smoke his Dutch cigars, the wonderful smell and his booming laughter filling the room.
And here – so important! – my bedroom, with pretty curtains and pale yellow wallpaper. Where I once lay awake, terrified by snuffling in the hedge outside, my fear fuelled by the horror books I consumed. It was mating hedgehogs. There’s the wardrobe where I hid my uneaten sandwiches from school until mum discovered the mouldy mess. The table where my fish tank sat, the filter bubbling quietly. The bed where Mandy slept. I could go on.
What cannot be sold
This place is layered with history, much of it shared in the raucous noise of a family of five. Other history was intensely private. All of that history is in my body and when I remember, I remember in my body. The feel of the old rag rugs under my feet. The heat of the wall bathroom heater on my back. The smell of the ground as I pressed tiny vegetable seeds into it. The feel of a purring cat. The taste of apples from our tree. I see that these things, this place, they can’t be sold. They are inside, they are the layers of myself.