My Happy Place

“Just, I don’t know…kick it in.”
“I can’t just kick it in. What if I break it?”

My boyfriend and I are standing at the door of an abandoned cottage. I know the walls are whitewashed, but they now appear a sinister mossy green colour after years of neglect. The thatched roof is on the verge of collapse and as I look up, I spy a small tree sprouting up from behind the chimney.

Jack shoulder-charges into the door again. It doesn’t budge. Shoulder and ego bruised, he turns to me. “You know technically, we’re breaking and entering here.”

“Calm down Sipowicz,” I snap, “this is my grandparent’s house. I have every right to be here.”

As a child, this was my favourite home to visit. I use the word ‘home’ because it was a home in every sense of the word.

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Located miles away from a main road, down a tiny boreen (boreen is the anglicised version of the Irish word ‘bΓ³ithrΓ­n’, meaning ‘little road’), it could have been an illustration in a Grimm’s fairytale. Surrounded by lush greenery and colourful flowers, it was a simple whitewashed cottage with a beautiful straw thatched roof.
Down the garden, a swing hung from a large oak tree. A stream separated the pretty garden from my grandparent’s vegetable patch, where they grew all their own produce. Hens roamed freely out in the yard and the din of my grandfather’s beehive could be heard faintly from the front door.

Inside the house, there was three rooms. Three rooms in the entire house; the main room, which functioned as a kitchen and living room in one, and two bedrooms. That was it. When I was a very young child, my grandparents didn’t have electricity, so they heated their water in a large pot above the fire. The fire was the centre of their home; a beautiful open fire that seemed to be eternally lighting. There was a wheel beside it that you had to spin in order to stoke the flames and as kids, that was our favourite novelty activity in the house.

My grandmother was always baking. Her favourites were apple and rhubarb pies and different types of breads. Everyone’s absolute favourite was her soda bread and I can still smell the bread baking in the oven and wafting all around the cottage as we waiting impatiently at the table. She would always let me ‘help’ her, though I wasn’t tall enough to reach the counter top and I always ended up with flour all over my face. She would construct a miniature version of whatever she was baking for me and then tell everyone proudly that I made it.

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When I cast my mind back to my childhood, this is the place that I felt happiest. Whether I was acting as my grandmother’s sous chef or evading cantankerous hens in the yard, I was carefree in this idyllic haven.

Then, suddenly, my father and my grandparents stopped speaking. I’m not going to explore the reasons behind their rift here, but it was a serious falling out. When you are a child, you are completely unaware of the complexities of adult relationships and I was no different. I had no idea why we had stopped visiting my grandparents; all I knew was that we had.

My grandmother died first. When we heard she was sick, we went to see her in hospital. Although she didn’t have the strength to speak, I will never forget how she squeezed my hand. I will also never forget the single tear that slid down her wrinkled face as she smiled weakly at me.

When she passed away, my father and his father still did not mend their rift. I never got to return to the cottage while anyone was living there. My grandfather died a few years later, and the house was abandoned. As the years passed, it seemed to exist solely in my memory. I could not bring myself to visit it.

One day, I visited my own father in the house I had grown up in. As I prepared coffee for us both, I spied something hanging on the wall. It was a commemorative plate, with a prayer and a picture of Pope John Paul II. One identical to this had hung above my grandparent’s fireplace.

“Dad, where did you get that?” I pointed to the wall. His eyes followed my finger and a sad smile settled on his face.

“I got it from your grandparent’s house,” he answered. There was a silence while I attempted to figure out how he could have done this. He must have registered the look of bewilderment on my face. “I went to the house a few weeks ago.”

I can’t describe how I felt on hearing this. You know that feeling you get when you’re not sure whether you’re ecstatically happy or heartbroken? I just shook my head when words evaded me. Dad looked sympathetically at me.

“The door is unlocked. It is abandoned and no one has been there for a long time. You should go and see it but…be careful.”

Be careful. I still remember him saying that, because it seemed an odd choice of words.

I asked Jack to come with me. I felt apprehensive and I didn’t quite know why. This was the place where all my happiest childhood memories lived.

The pathway to the house was completely overgrown, so we had to negotiate through briars and brambles. Several cuts and swear words later, we were standing in front of the cottage.

It was different. Of course it was, it was years later. Still, I felt a profound sadness looking at it. The clean whitewashed walls were now covered with years of fungal growth. The roof was beginning to cave in. I imagined the house like a soldier returning from war; damaged, ravaged, broken and changed forever.

Tears streamed down my face as I took in the nettles, the briars and the green moss that seemed to have infested every beautiful inch of the house. Jack squeezed my hand and planted a soft kiss on my head.

“Are you okay?” he asked tentatively, as I dried my eyes.

“Yes. I’m okay. There’s just such a profound sadness in knowing that this is what that beautiful, magical place has become. This house was the most beautiful part of my life and now it barely even exists.”

We stood looking at it, until I felt ready to go inside. When Jack finally got the door to open, the smell of dampness and neglect welcomed us. I stepped in gingerly to the main room. Dampness crept up the walls. The whole place was shrouded in darkness.

As dreary as the place looked, it wasn’t what affected me the most. The mouldy surrounding moved out of focus. Everything was exactly as I had remembered it; perfectly preserved like it had just jumped from straight from my memory. My grandmother’s Blue Willow China adorned the large oak cabinet, my grandfather’s patchwork blanket still rested on the back of his rocking chair, cutlery lay in the drawer by the sink just as it always had. The beds were still made. Pictures of relatives hung on the walls. I could almost hear the squabbling of all of us children over the wheel by the fire. I could almost feel my grandmothers gnarled and warm hand on mine as we baked together. The stories that a neighbour used to tell of the pΓΊca and the banshee when he visited echoed around the room.

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I stood still, taking it all in with a find smile. Jack slid his arm around me.

“It’s beautiful,” he whispered. I nodded. It was no longer confined to the deepest recesses of my memory, but instead was here in front of me; a house filled with stories.

“I’m ready to go. At least this time, I can say goodbye.” I felt a strong sense of comfort leaving and I feel it now. Knowing that the house is preserved like that, with all the utensils that my grandmother lovingly used still hanging up over the cooker, gives me a warm feeling that I will hold onto for a long time.

As we drove back to our own home that summer’s evening, I considered my dad’s words- “be careful”. I now knew what he meant. Revisiting old memories can be a painful business. It can leave you weary and unfulfilled. This wasn’t like that for me though. I left that house that day knowing that it was just as perfect as I had always remembered. I realised that it belonged in my past, and it was a part of my life that I would never forget. It’s time for me to make some new memories.

Do you have a cherished childhood memory? A place you go to (even in your mind) when you need comfort?

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44 thoughts on “My Happy Place

  1. Lisa Macy Coaching says:

    And where was the tissue warning ??? Such a touching story Janey. I’m glad that you do have some good memories of your grandparents that will last you a lifetime though. It’s so sad our some of our family members (parents) can keep us from seeing other family members (grandparents/aunts/uncles/cousins) for whatever reason and for so many years before they make amends, IF they make amends. Thank you for sharing your story. {{{hugs}}}

    • janeybgood says:

      I’m not gonna lie Lisa, I shed a few tears while writing this.
      It was a bad falling out and I wish all concerned hadn’t been so stubborn, but I suppose they had their reasons. I just feel grudges are such a waste of time and energy. Thanks for your kind comment and for taking the time to read this πŸ™‚

  2. dweezer19 says:

    What a beautiful remembrance. I am so sorry about the rift never mended. There have been a few in my family, although they have not involved me. I don’t roll like that. A lot of people do though, especially older generations. My grandparents’ place in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas was like that for me. My Grandpa and Great Grandpa lived there for years even after he was grown and my great Grandmother was gone. We spent every summer vacation there when Iw as growing up. Too many wonderful memories to recite here, but thanks for the urging of my remembrance. I am so glad it was just as you remembered it. It would be rare here for anything to have been left intact like that without looting.

    • truckerturningwrite says:

      Jeez Cheryl! It’s a small blogging world. I have just discovered this blog and here you are already, with your feet toasting at the hearth and a mug of tea in your hands. Freaky!
      Can’t remember my comment now.
      It was a lovely story, Janeybgood.

    • janeybgood says:

      There are several problems with my father’s side of the family; I wouldn’t know my first cousins if they walked past me in the street. It’s sad but like you said, these feuds were more common among the older generation.

      That sounds beautiful. I have never been to the US, but there are certain parts I would love to visit and Arkansas looks wonderful. It’s important to have these memories and these places that you can travel to (even mentally) when you need to.

      Thanks for reading and for commenting πŸ™‚

  3. weight2lose2013 says:

    Beautiful. Someday you’ll share them with your children, and your grandparents will live on for another generation. We have family rifts as well. So unfortunate as the kids are the ones that lose out the most.

    • janeybgood says:

      That is very true, what a lovely thought.
      That’s the thing, I never understood it as a child but now I look back and I just wish they could have resolved it. Thanks for reading πŸ™‚

  4. lexborgia says:

    Quite sad. Where is the cottage? I never seem to be able to deduce where in Ireland you reside. And by the way, an Irish cottage is my absolute dream home, the one thing in life I wish to own (I’m against owning things, except a brogue). What next? What are your intentions?

    • janeybgood says:

      The cottage is in Co. Cork, in the middle of nowhere. I don’t live anywhere near it anymore, since I now live in the west of Ireland (which has plenty of similar cottages).

      I would love to own one too. Unfortunately, part of the family feud was over the house and the land surrounding it. My aunt owns it and doesn’t plan to do anything with it, other than let it fall into more disrepair. I would give anything to own it but sadly, that’s not likely.

      Hey, if I ever do get my hands on it, you guys can all come and stay with me πŸ™‚

      • lexborgia says:

        Such rich Irish heritage should never be allowed to dilapidate, no matter the circumstances. I have a very soft spot for Ireland (you might have noticed). Also been to Cork – Ireland’s largest county; quite a nice drive down from Dublin. Will be back. Slainte (slonche).

      • janeybgood says:

        I know, it’s a real pity. Ireland is a beautiful place, I would be heartbroken leaving it (although it is a distinct possibly that I will have to). I’m glad you enjoyed your stay here. Tar ar ais go luath πŸ™‚

  5. eileen049 says:

    Awww, my great grandparents came from county Cork. I want to imagine them living in a cottage like that. Thanks for sharing your story, very touching.

  6. reocochran says:

    I’m glad that you got to see your grandmother before she passed away, squeezing your hand and her single tear, that shows you that the feelings were real and genuine between you both. She sounds like the most loving and beautiful grandmother, with her helping in the kitchen and your little mini-loaf that had your own hands making it. I hope you grabbed a few pieces of memories, photos and the plate, maybe a mixing spoon? If not, they are there in the ‘happy place’ waiting for visitors. So lovely and yet, not really sad, since it was the BEST childhood times, shared with both grandparents.
    I came here to tell you that I posted the duet of awards you honored me with, today. Thank you so much! This is a lovely legacy story to print up and share with your relatives and children someday…

    • janeybgood says:

      Thanks for reading Robin. It was a difficult piece to write in some ways, knowing that I’ll never go back there, but it was also quite therapeutic. I didn’t actually take anything, I think I was a little overwhelmed. What you said, that they are “waiting for visitors” is a lovely way of putting it and very comforting. Thank you.

      Aw, lovely! I’m going to go check it out now πŸ™‚ I hope it didn’t take up too much of your time but you deserve these awards!

  7. Cotton Boll Conspiracy says:

    A very touching story. My grandfather died more than a decade ago, about seven years after my grandmother, and even though my parents still live nearby, I have never once been able to bring myself to drive by my grandparents’ home. It’s in town, so it’s long been sold and is now owned by someone else, and I prefer to remember it as it was.

    It took a lot, I’m sure, for you to go back and visit a place with so many happy memories, yet tinged with sadness, too.

    • janeybgood says:

      It must be hard for you knowing that someone else is living there, but nice in a way I suppose in that you know the house will be loved and cared for πŸ™‚

      It was very difficult but it felt like something I had to do. I’m glad I did. Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  8. anupturnedsoul says:

    Reblogged this on An Upturned Soul and commented:
    This is simply… a stunning post by a beautiful soul with a way with words and self-expression which draws you in, welcomes you and takes you on a journey… one which you may be reluctant to leave but very glad you took.

    Traveling likes this, in location, in time, in memory, in person… walking in someone else’s shoes for a while… is so evocative and truly, deeply touching.

    It makes you ponder yourself, your own life, people, places, memories, shoes… in a poetic and appreciative way.

    Enjoy!

    Thank you for sharing!

  9. Blog Woman!!! says:

    What a beautifully told story, that many of us can relate to. Bitter-sweetness is a universal flavour, but not many can write about it so meaningfully. Nicely done.

  10. Chelly says:

    I’m a bit late πŸ˜‰ but this is a beautiful post πŸ˜₯ I wasn’t expecting to cry though! πŸ™‚ so sad and yet I fully undersand why it made you feel better. Grandparents are the best! πŸ™‚ I was very close to my granny and i always wish for just one more moment with her, one more story to listen to, but whenever i go to her house, i feel that sense of closeness like shes right there beside me. Its lonely and comforting at the same time if that makes any sense at all! πŸ˜€ It’s difficult to let them go. β™₯

    • janeybgood says:

      Thank you so much for reading it πŸ™‚ I totally get what you’re saying, which is why I think I was so upset. Lonely and comforting is the perfect way to describe it! I think it’s the only way I really still feel connected to them and to the memory- actually being there. It’s lovely but it’s tough.
      Thanks for your comment πŸ™‚

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