Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Driving Home

The idea of 'home' is so fraught for an exile.  Where or what is home?  There is that trite expression: home is where your heart is, and like all such expressions it touches on truth but doesn't really mean anything.  Well not to this lost soul.  My heart is where Marius is, always.  But then, there are the children, like any mother, they hold pieces of my heart fast in their grip.  There are my parents, the dog and the relatives ...  and there is place. 

As you may remember, I was born (oh and pprobably will die) an exile.  I have come to the conclusion that it is a state of mind as much as anything.  I've lived in five different countries for long enough to let each one claim a part of my sentiment for place as home.  I have been separated from the city where I grew up for more than 30 years - and I have no proper access to return there.  The only landscape I have known all my life is in Lincolnshire, where my grandparents and Aunt lived.  They are all dead  and my access to that landscape is now only as a visitor.  Some how the landscape and feeling welcome in it is important to me.

As I write this, I am in Forster, staying with my mother-in-law.  Marius and I helped with the design and construction of this house, twenty five years ago.  We used to come up for weekends with our babies:  returning here is always emotional and full of physical memories.

We drove up from Melbourne in a marathon 15 hour run.  We took lots of breaks along the 1,200 kilometre journey.  We haven't driven up for about ten years, always flying to Newcastle and hiring a car to complete the journey.  Now we have a little car which I bought in July last year (so our children could finally get their driving licenses) and Marius was itching to give it a run. 

The road has changed dramatically even in the last ten years.  All the little towns on the Hume Highway have been bypassed except Holbrook, that bypass is still under construction.  The last time we came, we had to drive through Albury, now that is bypassed.  (This one is close to my heart as I did the original computer model for the bypass in 1985, in a previous existence.  Great to see something built at long last!)  I will write about Holbrook separately and the famous lammingtons. 

When we came to Sydney, we discovered that our e-tag (well Dad's e-tag actually) works on the motorways of Sydney, enabling us to cross this huge conurbation in under 40 minutes - a previously torturous trip which could take two hours.  There is only one section of non-motorway road linking the south and north of Sydney, and it happens to be less than a kilometre from our house.

We deviated slightly off the sign-posted route, driving past the golf course, around the corner and stopping here:

Our house.  We bought it in 1990 as a wreck, a delightful Federation cottage which the estate agent expected us to pull down and replace with a huge slice of 'wedding cake'.  We didn't.  At the time my father said 'you must have vision' and shook his head.  We restored the old lady and eventually built an extension to her, turning her into a lovely comfortable family 'home'.   That word again.

We lived at that address for ten years of hard labour.  The day we flew out to Malayasia, we painted the fireplace grate and finished the mortaring around the back step.  We never lived in it 'finished'. 

One day, we might have the chance to live there again.

I realise I haven't told you how it felt to drive up and take a few snaps from the car window and drive away again, without getting out.  I have to trust you to imagine how it felt - the house which friends and family poured bits of their hearts into, friends and family who are not living.  A place crammed with memories and dreams. 

Our tenant moved in the week after we moved out.  She has lived there longer than we have.  She pays her rent and keeps it tidy.  It is a sound investment, a heartbreak, a place only.  Bricks and mortar and terracotta tiles:  home.



Jenny Woolf said...

Your post is interesting. I grew up abroad too and it had the effect on me that I do want to put down roots in London, which I always came back to as a child - but I also need to keep getting away as being in one place too long gives me cabin fever.

Never satisfied, in other words.

I would find it hard to live in exile as you do because it would FEEL like exile all the time, and that is not a comfortable feeling to live with always. But it probably makes one more self reliant.

Happy new year!

Suz said...

Oh, this was sad to read. Feeling homeless on this level must be lonely and full of longing.
I suspect that this feeling was engraved in you long before you ever moved the first time.
It isn't a place it is in ourselves. Give me a palace, give me a cottage...if I surrounded by what I love...I am home.
I wish this for you dear Isabel

Anonymous said...

My father was in the forces so we moved home, country, continent every couple of years - the only constant in life was my grandmothers house, which we returned to between postings. I haven't been back to that village since her death over 26 years ago. Since then I have lved on 3 continents and always feel that "home" is where I lay my head.

Elisabeth said...

Such a poignant post, Isabel. It oozes sadness and more so for me now that I know a little more of the details behind the house and you.

Even then, home is such a nebulous concept, an idea, a nostalgic point from which we can navigate.

In her honors thesis, 'Bricks, sticks and stones: unraveling model homes', one of my daughters writes:

'Home is a word with baggage. It is a word that evokes images of the hearth, of nests and shelter. Womb-like , home takes us back to what Gaston Bachelard calls "the land of Motionless Childhood."

'It is emblematic of the mother in all the ambiguity of the word, protective, and yet smothering; as a place from which we yearn to escape while longing to return.

'Through narratives of home, we learn to negotiate the world - our past and our present; we can also dream about our future, and mobilise equally fluid identities'.

Wonderful wise words from one so young and resonant for me, even more so now, as I write them to you after our conversation today.

Thank you.

jabblog said...

No words of wisdom or advice from me, Isabel. I think you are independent, resolute, a strong character - but you probably would have been all of those however your life evolved.
I hope 2012 will be kind to you and yours - good health, happiness and peace.

Jinksy said...

Feeling 'homesick' can strike at any time, and for people, as well as places... I feel for you...