Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Chelsea Years

Looking across the pasture
J.'s dad on the right
For Jimmy

Perhaps if the sun were shining it would make a difference, shafts of warm gold, dust-mote speckled, to splash across the bare boards of the floor. Or, if the aromas of venison fried with onions, and beans baked slowly in the brown pot with the chipped lid clung somewhere under the low ceiling, ebbing out to meet us when we opened the door, we wouldn’t wince at the sour scent of a space long closed and damp.
The old iron sink rusts in its corner, the small window above it clotted with cobwebs; not even a vagrant fly buzzes there. The wood stove is gone, carted off, too precious to leave behind.
“The table stood here,” you say, “under the window and the icebox over against that wall.”

I sense your unspoken wish that I should see this place through the eyes of your childhood; see it clean-swept, the windows open, gingham curtains stirring in a fresh breeze. There should be a mason jar perched on the sill, its wide mouth encircling a branch of lilac or a sprawl of sweet peas.

Where are the lanky tow-headed twins, the serious dark-haired sister, or the little girl with her freckled face, the baby boy? Perhaps if there was a row of muddy boots just inside the door, red or blue jackets dangling from the pegs, we could believe the children are here, mysteriously quiet and just out of sight, busy playing hide and seek or waiting to burst from behind the closed bedroom door. Perhaps in a moment they will appear, to tumble, shouting, down the steep narrow steps from the loft.
The long-slumbering stairs groan under our weight as we climb them single file, emerging into an upper realm swathed in shadows on this grey afternoon.
“The space on the left was for us boys,” you tell me. “The girl’s beds were over to the right under that window. Our cousins, Laura and Norman visited one weekend, up from Putney with Uncle Charlie and Aunt Margaret. The grownups sat up late talking and playing cards after we were sent to bed. Norman and the little kids fell asleep, but we four older ones piled onto the big bed and told ghost stories until we were too scared to move. Laura and Joyce rolled into the middle of the bed, pulled up the quilts and ordered me and Jerry to lie down along the outside edges. It was July and we huddled together all night long, sweating, none of us brave enough to cross the landing and sleep in the other room.”

We creak back down. Two steps from the bottom I reach for your waiting hand, not needing help, but knowing somehow that you need me to reach back into time with you, to recreate your childhood home—warm, clean, food-scented, humming with life, busy with the flow of days and seasons. We stand quietly for a moment, scanning the lifeless room, then leave without entering the small bedroom where your parents slept, made love, quarreled.

The warped wooden door scrapes and rasps as you pull it shut. Weeds straggle roughly over the doorstep. A crow erupts from a nearby maple, cawing rudely. Perhaps it would help if there were an old collie, rising from a patch of flattened grass, tail flopping a greeting, pink tongue ready to lick an out-stretched hand. There should be petunias giving color to the dented washtub that squats by the path; there should be chickens scattering and clucking as we pick our way down the grass-tufted driveway.

Surely, if the sun were shining, it would make a difference.


  1. What a wonderful picture you have painted. I was there with you both but I travelled back too ... even though I knew nothing of that life.

  2. That was so sad but really beautiful writing! :)

  3. When we drove past the location of his former home two weeks ago, J. remarked how small the yard and pasture really are--when he was a boy living there it seemed like a far bigger space that he and his brother explored.
    I wish we had a photo of the little house, demolished these twenty five years or more.

  4. Hullo there MM,
    Thanks for dropping in on my wee blog and leaving such a nice comment. I hope you come back again soon. I've not been at it long and am still kind of finding my feet.

    The dialect thing shouldn't get in the way although I have blogged a bit in dialect and do drop the odd word in here and there. I am considering blogging a bit of a glossary to help or maybe I should do it as a word of the day or something. What do you think would be best?

    You sound like you might have a bit of Scots in you too. After all we have a proud history of being on the wrong side in a fight and of being deported

    kind regards.......Al.

  5. What a wonderfully evocative piece of writing MM. Beautiful. I shall return to this again and emerge myself in that different time, someone else's memories. Magic. They say you should never go back . . .

  6. "Going back" is always different than I hope or fear it may be. There was a sense this time that I would not likely return with my parents now both gone. I was glad that when we left it was by a route that avoided their/my old home and village.

  7. Such a lovely piece of writing - both sad and happy at the same time. The pictures of J's childhood home that you conjured up were warm and happy but I think BB is right - you should never go back.