I live in a small wooden cottage perched on the side of a hill overlooking an undulating valley of farmlands. Every second tap doesn’t work, the light switches are back to front, there are no gas mains and the only heating for the long cold winters is a wood fire. I moved here from the city five years ago and in the beginning it felt very primitive and rustic. I recall looking at photos of this house on the internet and thinking it was laughably inadequate.
My partner (at that time) and myself came for a viewing anyway. The living space was so small I commented to him “we’ve lived in bigger flats”. I looked around the property and noted the waft from the ancient concrete septic tank, unused rundown sheds, the open laundry underneath the house and an abandoned chook house; not to mention a garden overrun with every noxious weed known to the area. At the time I could feel the undertow of the relationship dragging us towards its inevitable end; and buying a house was one of my last efforts towards gluing us back together. We went back for another inspection and decided the best thing it had going for it was the view out of the kitchen window; and dreamt up grand plans to extend the back of the house with floor to ceiling windows along the length of the building.
So in the end the little house that seemed least likely became ours. For the first couple of years we repaired and renovated; knocked down the old sheds to put in a new larger studio and made it homely and welcoming. One day I was standing in the backyard looking up at the house; contemplating all we had achieved and I knew in my heart of hearts that it was over. The only thing left to do was let go of the dream we had shared. We decided it was best for him to move back in with his parents (as they live nearby); and I was stay in the house with our daughter.
I had always known my mother had grown up in this area but never really knew exactly where. It was partly the reason that drew me here to raise our daughter in a semi-rural setting. When my sister traced our family tree she told me our mother’s childhood home had been in the next town. Last year however I was in contact with our aunt who I haven’t spoken to in many years. I was telling her where I lived in the valley and she remarked that the street I live on, the old highway, was the same road where they had lived as children. I asked her what the street number was and she replied there weren’t any back in those days; the postman just knew where everybody lived. She described the bend in the road where the house was, but this steep road is made only of bends and nothing else. This piece of information has intrigued me ever since hearing it. There are a lot of old houses on this street. When I go for a walk I look closely at them all and wonder, was that it? Was that where she lived? I am not even sure if the house would still be standing or has been demolished at some point to make way for a newer home.
This year I turned forty-two and I have spent a lot of time contemplating my mother’s life as she died at the same age I am now. One of the most significant losses I felt when she died was the thread of family story and identity. All the stories of her family and childhood that no one else would be able to talk to me about in the way she did. I was seventeen when she died, going through a rebellious phase and decidedly not speaking to her about anything at all. I had already left home a year before and hadn’t spoken to her in all that time. Not only have I lost the stories of her childhood; but I have lost the stories of my own childhood as well because no one recalls like a child’s mother. I really only knew a few different things about her life and over time these memories have dimmed also. I often wonder now at the threads of belonging weaving their way through my decision to buy this house, because in the end I was the convincer that this was the place for us. I didn’t really like the house, but at the same time I knew deep in my bones that home was here.
I attend a local women’s Red Tent circle in the valley and one the things we speak of is ‘healing the red thread’. Which simply means healing the matrilineal line down through generations of women in families. This house was built in the nineteen sixties which is when my mother would have lived on this road. I often wonder: did she walk past this house? Did she play on the street outside my house? Maybe she had a friend or even knew the family that lived here and had perhaps been inside this house that I now inhabit? It’s a curious thing to ponder – what if a mother more than twenty years dead has ever been inside the house in which I now live? Was it tender threads of mother love that drew me to this particular place? Is this me now, healing my red thread by connecting to my mother by way of place? Did she walk to the top of the rise to watch the sunset across the landscape like I do? As I document the beauty of each changing season; I wonder what my mother would think of the photos I take of this area?
My father has long since passed also so I can’t ask him either about my mother’s childhood home. Even though she came from a large family my mother was not particularly close to her siblings due to long held misunderstandings and resentments. I know however I must gently bridge that ancient wound and speak to my aunt. To invite her to my home and perhaps find a few more pieces to the puzzle. My mother; gone from my life for so long now and as her memory fades I can scarcely remember the tones of her voice. I know however that it is this mother hunger, this ache for belonging and place and identity; that brought me to this very special part of the world.