Published in The Age in 1996 as part of my regular column FAMILY POSTCARD.
Linwood was an apartment that I lived in at no. 3 Bates St, East Malvern. No doubt many other people have lived there since. If you’re one of them, let me know by commenting below.
I had meant to stop a million times, to take a nostalgic detour from the Princes Highway at East Malvern to see if the big old apartment I had lived in during my 20s was still there. But each time it seemed that the urgency of family life had spurred me on, home to where it seemed everyone was always waiting to be fed. But not today. “Take your time,” Rob had said. So I took that detour.
As I turned into the street I noticed the “for sale” sign. A trio of dark-suited real estate agents stood in the driveway, bearing glossy brochures and even glossier smiles and the smell of fresh paint from the open doors of the four apartments wafted over me.
I was not a buyer, I explained, just a ghost from the past. I took the long flight of stairs to the front door slowly, retracing steps from so long ago.
In those days, each of the apartments had had a name as well as number. Mine was Linwood. Below had been Merlin. But the people who had given Linwood “a facelift to meet the challenges of life in the 90’s, while retaining their original 1930s period charm and substance” had painted over the little wooden vertical sign that had Linwood printed in gold letters just inside the stair well. Instead, there was a bold, bland brassy “Four”.
They had whitewashed the dark wood paneling and doors too, stripped and polished the dark wood floors in the living areas, put new carpet in the bedrooms, new blinds and built-in cupboards and even a built-in laundry.
But I was unimpressed. I knew that like me, Linwood had a past life. As, I ambled through the large high-ceiled rooms, I didn’t see the white walls or the polished floors or hear the echoes of my feet on the floors of the empty rooms. Instead, I saw the dark wood again, the dark floors and heard echoes of conversations from long ago.
This was the place from which I took another detour so long ago: a decision to change my life that changed it and the lives of others more profoundly than I could ever have guessed. If I could strip away the paint and go back to how it was, how I was, would I detour again? Yes, I think so. In some ways, I had been treading water there; waiting for life to begin. At the time, I had thought it would be the start of something: my journey into life. But the journey never started and I grew tired of waiting. So I left.
“So why did you feel the need to go back?” a friend asked later. Was it to resolve something?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. Perhaps it was curiosity or just a need to reflect. Even when we move on, we take our past with us, reluctantly or otherwise. There is something too, about old houses that lures us.
“I once read somewhere that houses represent the souls of women,” my friend said.
Is this what is meant by a “haunted” house, a house haunted by the souls and memories of those that spent the most time in it, of those who had made it a home?
Going back is like a little pilgrimage, paying respects to your past life and self. It is a way of acknowledging change and growth, like marking a change of season.
This is particularly so if you have lived in a lot of different houses, as I have. It as if parts of you are scattered like ashes all over the city, and every now and again you are drawn back to those scattered ashes.
People like to point out the houses in which they were born, or in which they grew up. I grew up in many houses. And this was one of them.