Memoir: Early Homes
|My first home: 50 years on|
We lived at number 5. Or was it 3? There’s the trouble about writing a memoir. The memoir machine isn’t reliable. Memories get made and remade. Every remembrance of a memory writes itself over the old one. So was it number 5 Herbert Street or number 3?
I went back in 2013 to have a look. The suburb was Merrylands. It used to be 15 miles west of Sydney, but they changed the measurement and the old money got fixed as a memory. Change can be useful like that.
Woodville Road seemed wider and lots busier than 1953. I came upon Herbert Street too quickly, missing the chance to see if Glenys Davidson’s house was still there. She isn’t there, except in memory as my first teenage crush. I think I was her boyfriend for about a month before she dumped me. With reason. Ask me about it later.
For now, I was looking for the old house. The one we lived in until I was about six. Memory tells me it is two house blocks from the corner. But that memory is based on how far we had to walk to get the mulberry leaves from the neighbour’s tree for our silkworms so that they would spin coloured silk. So two houses would be number 5. But number 5 has gone. Replaced by a two storey Merrylands McMansion in pale brick with a columned veranda. In days of yore you would have had a nice view of the Nissen huts of the migrant camp where new Australians got to celebrate new beginnings in squalor only marginally less squalid than that from which they were escaping. Of course, we’ve refined the punishment since then.
So I guess it’s not number 5. And number 3 certainly looks the goods. It’s a square building rendered in white stucco with a front patio up four steps from a wire fence. And a driveway runs down the Southern side, which accords with memories of Dad whistling his arrival home from the big smoke of Regents Park. So I guess we must have lived at Number 3.
There was a garden round the back. And perhaps a wooden veranda that connected the house to the kitchen. Apart from Mum and Dad, two sisters and silkworms I remember little else about the house. Maybe there was a lemon tree. We lived around the corner from Grandma and Grandad, the convenience of which hardly registered on me. It just was. I suppose we inhabited both houses but you’d have to ask my sisters. Or rustle up our parents in a séance.
I did know that Dad was a Very Important Person at Granville Methodist Church although this may have simply been the knock-on effect of thinking he was a Very Important Person in every way. We seemed to spend all Sunday with other Methodists. Dad seemed to be up front a lot. He preached, led choirs, organised Sunday School, and every week neatly painted a sign informing passers-by who was preaching when and about what. Many often remarked at the quality of his neat hand. It was a hand I found a comfort during long sermons when he would allow me to try pry open his closed fist. I couldn't.
Once a year we had a visiting preacher who, every year, delivered an identical children’s talk. It concerned a jealous boy who stole his sister’s rag doll and buried it in the garden. His crime remained hidden until Spring, whereupon a small doll-shaped wheat plot emerged from the earth. Towering from the high pulpit, the old preacher intoned with the authority of the Book of Numbers, “Be sure your sin will find you out.”
If this was intended to impress us youngsters, he would have been disappointed. The story had to be explained to me, and probably also to my sisters, since dolls were not packed with ungerminated wheat seeds. The dolls of my sisters were hollow things. Dad explained that “when this preacher was a lad” dolls were made out of rags and stuffed with seeds. Well, I thought this was just silly, but my opinion was not required.
However, the mystery resulted in a clear explanation from Dad that “God sees everything we do” and that’s why if we do wrong, we’re going to be found out. So began my first worries. The idea that God was checking up on me was a bit disturbing. Perhaps I was off on the wrong foot, but my theological training had begun.