When I was a kid, in primary school and up until about mid-way through high school, it was a habit of ours to spend about a week of the Easter holidays at my maternal grandmother’s house. We’d pile into the troopie with Mum (Dad rarely came due to shift work in the fire brigade) and trundle off to Warracknabeal, a little town out past Horsham that nobody has heard of unless they’ve been there or are passionate fans of Nick Cave.
My grandmother’s house smelled like books, vegetables and gum trees. It was right on the edge of town, with a park across the road and a rose garden out the front. Behind the park was a yellow hill with a house perched on the crest. As far as I was concerned, the town ended there. We never went over that hill and I never found out what was behind it. We stayed in the street and played 40-40 in the park and got calluses on our hands from the rusted monkey bars.
When we were up there I’d sleep on a camp bed in Grandma’s room and she would put out a children’s rocking chair for me to sit in and read. There was a tree right outside the window in that room and the birds would sit in it and screech at each other all morning. I would spend the days playing Happy Families and Old Maid with my younger brothers, building houses from hand-me-down Lego-esque bricks and dressing up Mum’s and my auntie’s old Midge and Skipper. As I got older and less interested in dolls and toys (and more interested in daydreaming and boys) I would curl up on the camp bed and read endlessly.
There were thousands of books and magazines in the cupboard of the spare bedroom. Mum and my auntie used to collect girly magazines of the sixties – Princess was one and I can’t remember the name of the other – but instead of being filled with ads for clothes and make-up and articles on ‘How to get a Boyfriend’, they were full of graphic serials about independent boarding-school girls who solved mysteries and kicked arse at hockey. Grandma also had The Magician’s Nephew, The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle – the books in the Narnia series we didn’t have. It took Mum ages to buy copies for us at home. The first time I ever read them was at Grandma’s, and then repeatedly almost every time we visited. It was at Grandma’s when they changed from being really good fantasy stories to being really good fantasy stories with a religious subtext. (I think I was about 14 at the time. I distinctly remember feeling both cheated, defensive and slightly disappointed.) After awhile I stopped fitting properly into the kid’s rocking chair. Mum used to wonder why I wanted it in there at all.
Grandma used to burn her toast until it looked like charcoal and then scrape the black from the outside. She had the sweetest-tasting carrots growing in her backyard. She took up the skirt of my winter uniform for me when I was in Year 7 because I didn’t want to be uncool when I wore it for the first time and Mum was no good at hemming pleats. Grandma died peacefully in her sleep in 2000 and I inherited her bedroom furniture, including the bed she died in (minus the mattress and bedding, of course.) People freak out a bit when I tell them this, but I don’t feel strange about it. If anything it’s comforting, in the same way my random memories of her are comforting.
The house that I’m living in now reminds me of her house. The venetian blinds are covered by white lace curtains. The living room is full of books and shelves and comfortable couches. The kitchen has an electric stove, a laminex table and not-quite-enough bench space. The street is lined with gum trees and when I wake up early in the morning, a flock of birds are screeching indignantly at each other from the branches. The more I think about it, the more I believe that this is why I’ve found it so easy to settle in here, and the more I think about my Grandma, the more settled-in I feel. I used to be afraid of being so far away from my friends and family – afraid of being alone and lonely. But here, even though I’m by myself in a suburb I didn’t even know until 6 months ago, I’m not lonely. I’m content here. I feel like I brought my Grandma with me.