Nostalgia is bitter sweet as I was reminded when I happened by the home that for many years had been my parents’. Following their passing, the dwelling had been sold and until now, I had not seen it since. Its new owners had wrought their renovations: changes to windows, to colour schemes, to gardens now partially replanted... those sorts of things might have been anticipated.
It was the ghosts of memory that really startled, wheeling in as they did from a realm beyond my senses and simultaneously evoking feelings of eeriness and contentment. There before me, the home in which I had grown was again in its springtime. Once more I climbed among pungent camphor leaves, passionfruit vines tendrilled round rungs in the rickety paling fence; the koel had made his annual return to herald early morning rising, orange firethorn berries burst like bubbles beside the bedroom window and that loose floor-board next to the cedar bed that my grandfather had built for me still creaked as I stooped to turn back the covers. But much more than this, and so palpable, was that constricting sensation in my throat – that feeling of having once belonged here, of recalling precious yet fragmented things, something of my family departed, something of myself, of something about my first home having altered irrevocably.
Well, people move on. I suppose this sort of circumstance is common enough and it’s all tied up with how you define a home. If I had to do that, I would describe a place where there exists a sense of belonging, for me, that is the cornerstone, followed closely by feelings of acceptance, of being loved and welcomed. A person can be perfectly at home in a wigwam or be homeless in a mansion. An unremarkable observation, unless of course, you are an unfortunate utterly deprived of the basic need for shelter, for then, feelings of loneliness, abandonment, hopelessness and alienation can come to characterise you. Ironically, the same negatives might be true of the inhabitants of houses who have permitted material concerns to become their altar.
But that is speculation. What I am certain about is a place that became my second home. From a very young age I spent much time with an uncle and aunt on the fringes of the Myall Lake. Then, this was a place of some isolation, the only direct access being a threehour voyage in a motor launch up-river from Tea Gardens. There at Tamboy, my carers had reduced their lives to a basic level, my uncle fishing to sustain material needs. It was total enchantment. From the doorway of their old wooden cottage flowed an aura of security and welcome, there the lingering and rude smells of wood-smoke, tar and kerosene combined in a way that was somehow embracing.
There, a constantly evolving symphony of wind-rhyme, bird-song, the doleful ringing of insect-life and rain drumming refrains over the iron roof pulsed naturally through your being. Myriad new sensations swept over you continually: sunbeams in broad shafts dancing among pine branches in the air of autumn and moistening your eyes so that when you blinked and moved your hands to rub them and the morning sky was suddenly flushed with a rainbow of rosellas, you squinted in surprise and delight, as if your eyes had been caressed by some great, abiding Presence. Being certain of the love of those inside the house, you embraced the freedom to rush outdoors, to be consumed by what was there. Such a dreaming! A time for getting in touch with things deep inside you, a time of learning to enjoy your own company, a time when, lying in the grass, there first materialised that question, the one that brought with it the queasiness that has shivered on the edges of every sunset ever after: before all things were created, who created the Creator? Only, back then, a nine year old did not quite articulate it in that way. It was the beginning of a journey; one that would continue long after all vestiges of human habitation at Tamboy had been taken back by the wilderness.
My third home I share with Cathie. Under our roof, time waits these days for winter. For its part, winter yearns for old china, chiming clocks and furniture of dark oak. It pauses in the hallway to gaze longingly and wistfully at fading photographs of children, miming now the laughter of seasons that have passed. It abides in ever-whistling kettles and steaming teapots. It purrs in our quiet talk of people and places held dear in our hearts, it much approves our weaving of feelings and memories into a blanket that warms our days and kindles the little acts of service we perform for each other, and our hearts become full of the knowing that such willingly-given simplicities are, together, a virtue. Under this roof is a place of sanctity for here, the essences of our two beings long ago became and have remained one, for here, we have been three-times-blessed with the miracles of new life. And winter smiles, a long, slow, thawing smile, in remembering that this has been so.
And then, when all the homes are but dust upon the winds, the Promise will remain: of our other immutable Home... beyond the stars.