treasures

My parents recently moved house, from one small country town to another, yet smaller. While I still have some connections to my hometown – my parents-in-law live only a few minutes drive from where my parents once were – it is an odd feeling to know that you will never go ‘home’ again.

I put home in inverted commas because, for so long, where my parents lived wasn’t necessarily home. I lived my earliest years in another house in the same town, before the power industry started privatising; national- and state-level politics suddenly became very local indeed. With entire towns being employed by the power industry in some shape or form, multiple rounds of rationalisations drove unemployment rates to astronomical levels. Larger cities in the area became husks of their former selves, and my father, only a few years into a job at one of the power stations, started looking for other opportunities.

So, my parents bought a large block at the edge of town and put all their savings into building a bed & breakfast from scratch. It was a huge shock to me; I was going on 14 years old and didn’t see the long-term planning that my parents had in mind. All I saw was the rickety flophouse we now had to live in, and the fact that my lawnmowing chores now had to stretch to seven acres. This new reality coincided neatly with my burgeoning passive-aggressive teenagerdom and the results mustn’t have been particularly pleasant to manage.

Working 80-hour weeks, my parents succeeded in building the B&B into a success. To some surprise, my father kept his job in the power industry, which allowed them to pour some extra cash into the business at the expense of my mother becoming the sole person responsible for running up and down the hill, changing sheets, vacuuming rooms and baking afternoon teas. By the time I moved out, one self-contained cottage had become five (with another still to come), my father was approaching retirement from his day job and my mother had hired a few people to help with the cleaning.

J and I dropped by my parents’ new house yesterday. It’s in a speck-on-the-map town – two or three streets, from what I could tell – that sits flush along the highway that carves through the countryside. It’s a new-ish construction, not requiring full-scale renovation or demolishing like the last one, but rather some concerted months of effort to spruce up the interior. Perhaps the strangest part of the experience was to see familiar furniture in new rooms, especially as some of the older or nicer pieces had been parked in the various rooms of the bed & breakfast for long years; I was seeing some of them in a genuinely domestic setting for the first time since I was 13.

As we left, my parents presented me with a near-to-overflowing bag of “possibly important” paperwork they’d found during the clean-up and subsequent move. I dug through them today, and found page after page of slightly moldy drafts of various university assignments. It’s exceedingly odd to read your own words from a dozen years ago. I clearly knew how to spin a decent essay together back in the day, although I can’t say I’ve retained a great deal of knowledge regarding the various topics. This may not necessarily be a negative; the structure of the USSR’s politburo during the final years of Brezhnev’s reign has little bearing on my current line of work, and my fine ability to identify dualities within the works of Bruce Chatwin has lain fallow at the expense of other, perhaps more useful traits.

My mother told me yesterday of a box labelled ‘treasures’ that had been in storage since 1977, before I was born. While I remember my childhood home as vast and spacious, there had apparently never been the chance to unwrap and display the box’s contents there. Any hope that these treasures would see the light of day would have evaporated once they moved to a smaller house on a larger property to start their fledgling business. Now, finally, my mother will have the chance to open the lid, unravel the coloured tissue paper and let her various ornaments sit out on display.

Sitting on the back porch of my home – a home that I own with my beautiful wife – I do hope that I have treasures that I can show and eventually pass on to my own (currently hypothetical!) children. I have no idea what they’ll be – perhaps the wood carving J and I bought from an old man outside Ubud in Bali, or the opium pipe that my well-travelled great-aunt gave to me so many years ago. But whatever they are, I hope that they will sit out on display for many years, so that my kids can attach memories to them, craft their own narratives and dialogues around them so that – in many years time, when they eventually get passed on – they will be laden with personal histories, tales that will grow with the telling.

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