The announcement comes after dinnertime. Mum turns off the television and asks for our attention.
“We’re selling the house and moving to Queensland,” she says, looking down at the table. There is so much in her voice. Excitement, but mostly apprehension and the sadness that comes with anticipating a big move.
Her announcement doesn’t exactly come as a shock. After working hard for many years, my parents have spent the last few mapping out a long retirement in Coolum Beach with only the sunshine and golf courses for company. Mum plans to finally get herself a dog – someone to give her “unconditional love”, she likes to joke.
My brother and I are happy for them to experience their new adventure. We toast with champagne and then move onto other topics of conversation.
And yet, several hours later, I go to take a shower and find myself in tears, trying to comprehend how we’re possibly ever going to let go of this house – the house I grew up in.
The house is red brick, with a big cream garage door and a wooden front door. There are tall, pruned trees lining the path to the front door and fairy lights strung across the back fence. Inside, the smell of fresh laundry lingers on the cream walls and enormous windows that flood every room with light.
The house also has ugly tiles that get mossy if they don’t get cleaned with a high-pressure hose, moths that refuse to vacate the pantry and birds that keep dive-bombing the roof and dislodging charcoal tiles.
To the untrained eye, the house is completely unremarkable. A typical suburban family home, surrounded by other typical family homes.
To us, it’s a palace.
Mum and Dad were the ones who designed the house. They migrated to Australia from a communist country at a young age with two suitcases in their hands and no money in their pockets. They lived in a flat that was infested with cockroaches while they worked. And saved. And worked some more.
They had a baby – my brother – who played on the floor with the cockroaches. They worked, they saved, they worked, they saved. The baby grew to a toddler and then to a small child. They moved to a slightly bigger flat and had another baby – me. My grandmother came to Australia to live with us. And once I’d grown a bit too, they thought they’d take all their saved pennies and put it towards building the five of us a house.
They gave me a walk-in wardrobe. They gave my brother a room big enough to fit all his books and games. They gave my grandmother her own retreat downstairs, where she wouldn’t have to navigate too many stairs. They gave us a TV room and a library and a family room and the “Christmas dinner” room where we only ever sit to eat once a year.
The entire house was built especially for us. It’s only ever known our family – our jokes, our arguments, our raging debates after too many flutes of champagne. So how can another family possibly ever live in it?
I step out of the shower and think back to a moment when I was probably about fifteen. I had a few friends over and they wore shoes into the house, despite the no-shoes rule. Mum fussed and stressed that they would scratch the floor, and I became annoyed and embarrassed that she even cared so much. “It’s just a floor!” I said. “It’s not life or death!”
“I care about this house because I know it’s the best I’ll ever have,” she replied quietly.
I turned, and I told my friends to please take their shoes off.
Travel back in time with this ‘Looking into the past’ gallery; thanks Buzzfeed.
Looking into the past
To see more images click here
What’s the story of the house you grew up in?