An open letter …
On where the heart is
Life for me is lived out in the suburb of my childhood. My house, my children’s school, many of my most loved ones: all are here, in this inner-city village, equal parts gentle peninsula, rushing thoroughfares, orderly streets. Gone is the corner dairy with the ancient lean-to reinvented as the humblest of spacies arcades. But, look, there is the cafe with its paleo bowls and kombucha. Gone, almost, are the pensioners with their rotary washing lines and borders of agapanthus. But, look, there are the affluent young families wandering through their deceased estates (“You’d just bowl it.”). It hurts, gentrification. I miss the multiplicity of peoples. More and more we look the same. Richer, whiter. We drive big cars and turn our houses into fortresses with security codes. I miss the low fences and the unlocked doors. The fainter aspirations.
Some things, however, do not change. As I did, my children still seek the poor man’s rhododendron, hopes eternally raised that under this leaf will be the mother of all seed pods, ripe for the popping. There is still that house with the little stand out front: wilting bunches of sweet peas, tomato plants and an honesty box. On a Sunday night we still sometimes go up to the Chinese takeaway with the sloping floor for vege chow mein (no cauliflower, extra cashews) and $5 chips. And while the new dairy has no spacies, it’s cleaner, brighter and the owners give away lollies at Halloween. I would be lying if I did not acknowledge there is a lot to like about this brasher version of my old stomping ground: good pizza, a glass of prosecco, last-minute gifts, all just a short walk away. And that, in spite of my fears, the sense of community has not diminished, has, if anything, grown stronger. So it’s not that I would put things back to how they were. In fact I think, perhaps, I hold it as dear as I ever have. Lately, though, I have been toying with the idea of leaving. I hanker after a garage, a pool, another room so that we are not all on top of one another. And to afford these things it would require moving further out, away. Can I do it, I ask myself, scanning the property pages. Could I abandon the suburb of both my child- and adulthoods? Yes, I had started to think. Yes, you like change, change is good.
Then, last week, my daughter came home with a homework assignment. They are investigating the concept of belonging, every child to share with the class something significant showing where they belong. We have had many discussions about what she might choose. I suggested family heirlooms — an antique clock, a silver teapot — photos of us holidaying — on tropical beaches, at the snow. She dismissed them all. It needs to be something about our park, she said. The park, I said, but that’s not special to you, all the kids in your class go there. And then, dropping her off at school a few days later, I read something in one of her exercise books. I love our park, she had written. Because I walk my dog there and my grandparents live near and I play with my friends there and there’s a pony I love who lives in a paddock close by. And I realised she had understood how the land we inhabit, both which we are born upon or may come to as immigrants, takes up residence in our souls in ways I had failed to comprehend. In ways my avariciousness had temporarily blinded me to.
Diane said having just moved her father and his wife out of their home, which was packed to the gunnels with stuff, my column on the need to cull more and gather less throughout our lives struck a chord. “They had nine months before the actual move and you know how much sorting and packing they did? Nothing! As they, ‘Liked their things around them’. Having moved house ourselves 11 years ago and having a magnificent declutter, I tried to encourage and reassure them how liberating it would be just to take the truly important items, but other than some redundant furniture, they let nothing go. As fast as we filled the St. John’s donation box, they took items out again. I and two sisters took time off work and spent 10 solid days packing them.”
I have been toying with the idea of leaving. I hanker after a garage, a pool, another room . . .