The house is on fire! Which 5 things do I save? Desperation engulfed me when I first saw this Daily Post challenge. “How awful, our whole lives gone!” was my first thought. And the next. Eventually I sat down to condense my thoughts, and I am surprised to find I can’t actually list 5 things I’d have to take to continue enjoying a meaningful life. For every wonderful object my mind throws at me I can’t help but shrug my shoulders: it can all quite easily be replaced. Photos? They are mostly on the back-up hard-drive, we never get around to printing them. I’ll take the hard-drive, alright then. Although if that failed I’d sigh, be sad for a while, and move on. The memories will always stay with me. I don’t need the photos to remind myself or prove anything. I’d like some of the photos up on the walls because naked walls are a tad stark, but I have got used to that. I would like to keep the photos, but I wouldn’t be lost without them.
Wedding ring? I always wear that, stupid. Unless I’m digging in the dirt or handling something gross. The odds are I would be wearing it. But imagine I weren’t, I had left it in the burning house. Would I risk my life to retrieve it? I might have given you a ringing (ha! see what I did there?) “YES!” until a few days ago, when husband told me he’d lost his. I discovered I wasn’t as upset as I had expected. It was a valuable symbol, but now that it is gone it is reduced to an object. Its disappearance does not confer any meaning onto our relationship. Husband is considering having a new one made in the image of mine so he can wear a visible symbol of our relationship like I do. The fact that it won’t be the ring I put on his finger when we got married is not material. We both know that event happened. The ring represents our dedication to each other rather than a particular moment in history. So again, replaceable.
iPad? I love it, but the insurance would buy me a new one. I’d buy a new cover for it, the same lovely wooden one I so painstakingly selected. Clothes I spent ages picking out? I enjoy browsing and finding things that are that little bit different, so it’d be a wonderful opportunity to buy a whole new wardrobe. My wallet? Now here’s something I’d definitely want to save from the fire. It would be such a hassle to have to replace my identity card, bank and credit cards, driver’s license and such. I hate wasting time on such mundane things.
Don’t get me wrong, I value all of these things; they all add something to my life. But it is a relief to find that my life does not depend on them. The nice things really are the icing and the cherries on the cake. Without them my life would still be intact: I would still have the people in my life that matter, a job, and the same opportunities and challenges. Which would include dealing with an insurance company and living out of a caravan for a while. Which, in turn, breeds a potential risk for those vital relationships to be strained too far, but let’s take one step at a time!
I had been debating with myself whether to revisit my childhood town and the home where I grew up over the last couple of weeks. I left for Belgium still very much undecided. A few days into the trip the perfect day presented itself when every other family member had something planned, leaving husband and me to make our own plans. My hand was forced, I had to indulge husband and plug his gap in the history of me. I kept telling him I had not been hiding anything, that there just was not very much to it. I had wanted to add “my life only started with you darling” but he would have heard the grin. Truth be told, I was dreading the visit (I almost wrote “confrontation”) all the way there. Didn’t know where to park when we got there. Twenty years is an awfully long time for a city. It had changed so much I was surprised to find several shops I remembered from my childhood still exist. Mostly though I was left trying to work out what was there before. I would look at a building and instantly think “ha, there’s a design shop here now”, for example, but not be able to recall what was there before. I just know it wasn’t that.
Husband was duly impressed with the city hall – really I should stop calling it a town 🙂 -, which is the little sibling of those in Brussels and Leuven, and the two beautiful churches. I showed him the school I went to, which has now entered the modern era and merged with the boys’ school next door and removed the fences that were designed to keep us girls safe from them, at least while the nuns were responsible for us. Whilst I do agree with all that I can’t help thinking that kids now miss out on the thrill of looking forward to meeting up with their boy / girlfriend in the little alleyway across from the school gate. Preferably while nun on duty was looking.
With all the change I felt detached from my memories. It didn’t quite feel like the place I grew up anymore, even if I rationally know it is.
So far so easy. The tourist treatment. Now I had to drive to the village and the home where I grew up. Still hating the thought of it as I was edging closer, fearing that regret for what was loved and lost would take over. And then there it was: the castle and the pond where we went skating; then the garden appeared in view, and finally, a glimpse of the house itself. I stopped the car in front of the drive and peered in. You couldn’t see much, just as I remembered it. The house is nestled behind tall hedges, trees and bushes, which all still looked familiar. Waves of emotions crashed over me, all different hues. I drove around the back, where I could only glimpse into the garden but not make out the house. I sat there for a while until the seas inside me calmed down. Then I told my husband I was glad we had visited. The dread I had felt before, linked to the bad memories of the final year or so of us living there, was being pushed down below overlays of the many more memories of all the wonderful years there. Growing up there was a privilege: we enjoyed a space and freedom my children couldn’t dream of. We waged wars with the other children throughout the village, built camps and rope bridges in the garden, built dams in the brook down the road. I wished I had brought my walking boots so I could trace back some of my favourite walks. It is beautiful out there. Too muddy without boots right now, but it gives me a reason to go back. I might even take the children to see where their roots lie. Because now I feel freed to do so and enjoy it.
Somewhat paradoxically, my restored connection with my childhood home has made me even more comfortable being at home where I am now. I feel as if I have been given a bright new room to keep my childhood memories in, one I can visit and feel good about, but only a room in my existence alongside so many others.
I didn’t have the presence of mind to take pictures but I found one of the castle pond, where we used to skate:
We are planning a trip to Belgium in a couple of weeks. Spending time with family and hanging around, enjoying the company and the things I miss back home. Actually, there’s been a major improvement on the “goodies I miss” front since last week: Sainsbury’s supermarket now stocks grey shrimps! I love them! Now I don’t have to take a car fridge anymore to bring some back. But I digress. Husband can feel a bit bored, as he doesn’t understand everything that is going on. He wants to play tourist sometimes. It is more difficult than you’d think to keep coming up with places an outsider might find interesting. I have told him I think we’ve pretty much covered the tourist hotspots. Belgium is about the size of a stamp, remember. Husband changes tack. He wants me to take him around where I grew up. He has been asking for years and I have managed to divert his attention to touristy things so far. What do I do now?
It is not that I have anything to hide. I have not run away from anything particularly, nor am I wanted for some ancient misdemeanor. And yet I have not been back to the town where I grew up for 20 odd years and am still reluctant to do so. I have been musing over what exactly I don’t want to face up to, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I am probably not being honest with myself. Maybe I should schedule a night time session with myself to get some true answers. One thing I am clear about is that seeing our former home again, my home for the first 22 years of my life, passed down seven generations in the family and now some stranger’s home, is going to be emotional. A tangle of emotions at the memories of growing up there and the loss of it all. I am just not sure I want to open that box again. I have managed to move on by looking ahead, not back. I also worry about the impact it might have on my parents if I told them we were going there. I probably wouldn’t tell them. Husband understands, even if he doesn’t know every detail. Things have happened in his life too. But I also understand he would like to fill in the blanks in my history. He won’t force me; I’ll have to make my own decision.
The simpler but still unresolved decision is whether I should contact some of the people from way back then. There are some I hope I won’t run into in town, and if I do, I might pretend I don’t recognize them; there are also a few people it might be nice to reconnect with. At times it seems as if my history only goes about ten years back. I do feel home where I have decided to peg my tent. But maybe it is time to reconnect with older, deeper roots to find a more comfortable way of living with those closed boxes.
For now I’ll promise husband to show him the town, and I’ll decide on the day whether to go to the house. Depending on how strong I feel. I have another two weeks to reach out to people I may or may not like to see again – plenty of time for night time resolution.
Everyone in Flanders was out ice skating this weekend. I am so envious. Seeing the pictures is such a throwback to my childhood and teenage years. When I was a little girl my parents would take us to the local castle pond and teach us to skate. As I grew older we met up there with our friends and spent whole afternoons on the ice racing each other, playing amateur ice hockey and just fooling around. I remember the thrill of sneaking off with a certain boy round the back, where the ice formed a loop between the reeds and the trees, a brief moment of perfect seclusion. I remember how the pale, low sunlight drew long shadows of trees on the ice, and how the frozen reeds rustled as we skated past. I wish I could have taken my skates there this weekend.
The pictures below are just there to indulge me. They are, unfortunately, not actual memories. Those exist only in my mind.
The first photo was taken by Lieven Van Assche and published on De Standaard. The second is from Panoramio.