My parents are in the process of selling our family home. They built it thirty years ago, finishing it just in time for the arrival of my older sister, extending it a few years after my younger brother came along. It is surrounded by a magical garden, filled with countless Australian birds and animals that own the place as much as we do. We all grew up in this house, the lengths of our lives so far played out out beneath its vaulted ceilings, the width of them collected in its cupboards and drawers, planted in its soil. Until I left Australia and found a second home in Germany, this house, this beautiful, beautiful house had been the only place I had ever called home. It has seen countless, loud, messy family Christmases, big birthdays, impromptu barbecues, negotiated sleepovers, and parties, long, hot, dusty summer holidays spent wriggling under fences and building makeshift cubby houses wherever we saw fit. It has been home to as many animals as we could beg Mum to let us have, before my Dad put his foot down sometime after my sister deposited her dog in the backyard and asked if she could live here. This house has seen sickness and health, great love and sadness and it has done it unwaveringly, its walls the strongest and most all-embracing I have ever had the privilege, the fortune, of being contained, warmed, steadied within.
Yesterday walking barefoot across the yard, back towards the side-door, an unbidden thought entered my head. Hopping over bindies and stepping on brittle, dry leaves, I thought of someone else walking this precise path, another pair of unfamiliar feet coming back across the grass, hopping over bindies and stepping on brittle, dry leaves. I thought about those feet calling this house home, that path, that very path, being a part of their everyday, being the short walk back to walls bearing witness to the length and width of their lives, to cupboards and draws that wouldn’t be full of my old belts and train ticket stubs and scratched CDs any more, but theirs. I thought about the walls that have been mine for so long, that have contained so much of me and my family over the past three decades, now containing others. This idea, it is the strangest sensation, the most intimate transferral. Of this transaction we make when we sell homes, move on – how much do we leave behind? How much of our past still clings to those walls we’re driving away from, still hovers in the rooms we’ve emptied of our things, our tangible signifiers of home? We haunt homes, I think, or they haunt us. Or both.
I think a lot about what makes a place a home. Having made a couple outside this country, having longed to return to this very home to restore a sense of balance, to replenish what had been taken out in the process of making the foreign the familiar, I find myself trying to grab all of those elusive, intangible signifiers of home. Grab them, hold them in my palm and inspect them, like little charms onto which the fundamental truths of home are engraved. Would one charm be a heart, and if so, does this mean home is where the heart is or where the one who has your heart is? Can your heart be in a different place to where the one who has it is and if so, what happens then? I can tell you. You follow the part of your heart that is missing its home, you follow it to set things right again, to soothe its weh. And you miss the home where the one who has your heart sits waiting for your return. Perhaps one charm would be a chest in which a certain amount of memories, a mass of past, of history are stored. All of those big moments, those times you have been most malleable and shaped so conclusively. All of those big moments this home has borne witness to, shouldered patiently. A little clock could be a third charm, one that has counted the minutes, the hours, the days you have spent in this home, the years you have marked with cakes and candles and Christmas trees. The times you have broken things, marked walls, dropped plates. The times you have been broken, marked and dropped. There would be a charm for peace, one for safety and another for familiarity. A charm for shelter, refuge. Perhaps that is what a home is, a handful of charms we carry with us.
Not every house is a home and not every home is a house. But this house, this house is home. And I hope that the person to whom those new feet, hopping over the bindies, belong to, I hope they feel safe here, I hope they find peace here, that this is their refuge. I hope they know how much these walls have borne witness to and I hope they trust them with their secrets and weakest moments. I hope, to them, it is as much a home as it has been to me.