Losing your parents can be a bit of a struggle.
Not just the emotional and psychological turmoil, but whole volumes of history can vanish.
“What were your mother’s parents’ names?” I was asked when organising Mum’s funeral.
I honestly couldn’t remember. Grandad died before I was born and Grandma passed away before I was 5.
Mum always used to say we were related to the late broadcaster Sir Paul Holmes somehow – something to do with a branch of her side of the family called “Manning” (this sort of stuff seemed to matter far more to the older generations, than to us younger ones).
“What about (this), or (that)?” other topics might come up. It used to be so easily fixed – “I’ll just ask Mum, or Dad!”
I can’t do that now.
I can only really remember an nth of everything Mum and Dad told me about their growing up and our family history – We’re so busy focussing on our own learning and growing that so many things that might seem trivial at the time are left by the wayside.
I do clearly remember one thing – It’s the house Mum and her parents lived in when they moved from Gisborne back to Napier.
I remember its exterior very easily, because I see it almost every day – it’s just down the road from our current home!
The interior, however, is much hazier.
I remember tiny glimpses of the inside it from childhood, because I got to visit it briefly while my grandmother still lived there, and from the old photo albums I inherited.
As fate would have it, the woman who presided over Mum’s funeral knew the family who live there.
I asked afterwards if I could be put in touch to possibly have a look inside again and see if/how it had changed from my (very vague) memories. They happily obliged and a few months later I got to have a look around.
It was an interesting experience on multiple levels. I brought some photos with me to compare the old and the new, so I will post them side by side.
This is Mum – In 1966 she would have been 25. It looks like she was ready to go out for some event by the looks of it, or star in the original “Mad Men” series…
These are my maternal grandparents – Isabel and Allan, or “Peg” and “Knobby”. These photos are from around the same time and similarly sartorial.
A rakish angle on Grandad’s trilby..
One memory I DO have of the interior of their house is sitting on the wooden stairs that led up to the second storey, staring at a stained glass window.
The window is most certainly still there, and the stairs were carpeted long ago, but the odd thing was I remembered the stairs in reverse – I was certain they went up from left to right, when they actually go right to left.
There had been a few other minor changes, but nothing of HGTV-knock-every-wall-out level. Much was as it had been 40 years ago. Even some of the drapes were original – How do I know?
I found bits of this exact same material in Mum and Dad’s house when I had to clean it out a few years ago! (For what it’s worth, it has held up VERY well!)
I went up the (“back-to-front”) stairs and had a look around.
My grandparents’ bedroom had apparently been on the ground floor, so upstairs was where Mum and her siblings would have slept.
I had seen a photo of Mum, taken from the street looking up as she poked her head out of an upper window, but that room looked more like a sunroom / study.
As I poked my head into another room, though, something told me “this was Mum’s room” – there was a connective feeling about it. (This was later confirmed by a cousin who had also been there regularly in their younger days).
I took a few photos of the room (albeit with furnishings from the current occupants), perhaps hoping to catch a wisp of a spirit, a familiar face in a reflection, drape or pattern, but sadly none were to develop.
I was asked if I wanted to be in any of the photos I was trying to recreate – “then and not”, or “a new generation” sort of thing, but I declined.
It wouldn’t feel right personally. I didn’t feel like I deserved to take their places and I thought it spoke more of the loss I was feeling.
The place was still here, but all those who connected me directly to it were gone and I was feeling that missing link.
It had never been my home, but the occupants, and the house, had made me feel comfortable and welcome.
It’s all part of the healing process, I guess.
Many things may have been forgotten, but there are still lots of other things to be discovered.