Sunday, September 04, 2011

Abandoning the Cubby

Where we love is home;
home that our feet may leave,
but not our hearts.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Homesick in Heaven

I took a forlorn, last look around me from the throne of my childhood.

The huge old tree under which I sat was leaning against the neighbour’s brush fence, as it always had. Suddenly, I had the sense that it was from exhaustion. We won’t play like this again, but it was grand, wasn’t it? It had grown in a curious arch from the ground and curved overhead, the pendulous branches creating a cave-like space larger than a truck, enclosed on three sides, once you included the fence. I had crafted the opening into a door with bales of straw and woven branches. It was a dappled, cosy space, but the day was cold and wet.

I sat on one of the branches inside that formed a natural seat. I had to hunch forward a little more than I used to. It used to be a more comfortable fit. I wondered if it was as much the tree growing, as I.

I smiled as I ran my hand over the marks, in liquid paper, painted on the adjacent branches; crude icons and buttons. Power, I mouthed silently. Shields. Lasers. Scanners.  I surveyed, for the last time, the bridge of my ship; the console of my time machine; the keep of my fort… the last line of my defence against growing up, fallen silent now in valediction.

And there, over in the corner, was the depression where, years before, I had commenced digging a hole which I had announced would be the entrance to a series of underground tunnels, lit and paved, like in Hogan’s Heroes. My grandfather, impressed and indulgent, gave me a shovel and a knowing wink. The hole never got more than 3 feet deep.

How many hours, I wondered, were lost in this space? No, not lost; found. My sister said once that she had spied on me, and wondered why I wasn’t doing anything. “You were just staring into space, for like, hours.
“Of course,” I replied “but you didn’t see what was going on up here” as I tapped my forehead.
“Well I should know,” my sister, four years younger than I, argued. “We never played my games there.”
“My prerogative. My cubby, my rules.”
“What? Like that time you insisted we had landed on a, a…” she searched for a word,  “a mystery planet that looked just like ours, and we had to go into the house and pretend everyone were aliens?”
I smiled at the recollection. I warmed to the topic.
“I remember that!. And the time after we had just come back from Jenolan caves, and we were in the house and I said we would pretend the cubby was the Skeleton cave and we had to sneak up to it to see the real skeleton, and you were so frightened you wouldn’t go in.”
My sister affected mock bluster. “I was, like, six.”

My reverie was broken by the whine of the removalist van laboring up the driveway. I hated it, with all the lack of ambiguity only a 15 year old can project onto the world. Because it wasn’t fair.

I looked toward the house to see if anyone was emerging to direct the van, past the huge, imperial Jacaranda that dominated the centre of the property. The Jacaranda was losing the last of its autumn leaves, and dripped with the drizzle that had set in.
It matched my mood.
That tree was planted by my great grandfather, and that one by his father, my heart cried. Well, probably. But our property had been in my family since the 1850s and at that moment, every blade of grass was sacred, and its abandonment,  an outrage. My world was upended and ending.

Mum, haggard, had indeed emerged from the house and was futilely gesturing for the driver to drive beside the driveway at the top because the unparalleled comings and leavings had turned the top yard into a sea of mud. Yesterday’s truck had become bogged. Yes, I thought. Our place… she doesn’t want us to leave. She’s hanging on. I felt the weight of history like a physical force. I felt it radiating out of the ground. Not fair.

Mum sighed in frustration.
“You’re not making this any easier,” she had said, months before. We were sitting at our kitchen table. She took my hand in both her own; her sure sign that what she was saying needed to be absorbed. By osmosis, if necessary.
“Your grandparents aren’t well enough to keep up the place any more. Won’t you look forward to them coming and living with us at our place? There’ll be all the building, while we build the granny flat. And then, well, you won’t have to wait to visit; they’ll be right here with us.”
My mouth made shapes while I considered the proposition, like I was turning over a sourgum I couldn’t decide if I liked or hated.
As if. I would be irrational; “No. It’s the family property. No one will care like we do, who grafted which tree, and which gardens the pets are buried in. It’s everything that’s constant in my life, and I don’t want it taken away.”
Mum’s look of sadness was almost enough to tip me over the edge, because she knew I was right. Nevertheless, the pitiless Universe said she was right, too, and I knew it. And the knowing made me just that bit less a child.

I hope, I thought, as I left my cubby behind for the last time, I hope someone finds you. I brightened. Maybe this will will become a special place for someone else. Maybe they will find it and marvel, like ‘The Secret Garden’. I was told that the buyer had a family, but the details were sketchy.

I left behind a part of myself on that day, but I also took the seed of what that space meant. In time, it took root.

I glance out my window. My eight year old son is shouting at the world from the cubby I have built him, defending it against invisible foes. Our property is salted with good climbing trees, many of them scions of the trees of the old place, gifted by my grandparents when the family moved.

Continuity is preserved. The force of history still radiates from my ground, and it is warm.

I smile.

This piece was written for a creative writing unit
I am doing at University. The brief was to write 1000
words about a vivid childhood memory.

1 comment:

Anthony said...

Beautiful. I am touched deeply. Lots of shared history there. I didn't know about your cubby. (I knew about Michael Kraus's ). My brother had many that were envious. But I had a secret one that was similar to yours: Power: check; Lasers: check; Scanners: check; Staring into space for hours; check... well at least minutes :) Haven't bought a property yet, but I'm looking for one with a tree. The 'backyard' might be the aussie dream for most, but for me, it's the tree.