The long goodbye

Sunday Blog 115 – 17th December 2023

This is my fifth blog on the 1910 novel Howards End because-well-I maintain it has something important to say about many things. And today I’m pondering the long goodbye to my family home. What better than to review what Mrs Wilcox had to say about her family home, Howards End? She even married someone she knew was, well, limited, because he had the means to save her beloved home.

There’s maybe a month, maybe three weeks until we will have to clear out completely 65 years of belongings from the house. Way back in 2020, I hand-wrote a piece, wondering if the last days of my family home were upon us, and I transcribed it into a blog in 2021. And here we are, 2023. We squeezed out three full years after my father died in the house in October 2020, as he so desperately wanted to. It wasn’t the place he was born, but it was the place he spent most of his life. He bought the house in the 1960s, aged 31 and for the next 60 years, the house was his ongoing, absorbing, beloved project.

Here is an early image taken by mum in the 1960s as she watches him teetering on very minimal scaffolding, his feet in thongs/ flip-flops. She wanted a picture for the children because she was sure he would plummet to his death. He didn’t and undertook many more equally bold projects around the house.

In the city where I live, the custom is to drag out goodbyes at the end of an evening. Sometimes the conversations at the car can last longer than the entire discussions over dinner.

I can’t stand that. I like a quick farewell. Rip the bandaid off. Into the car. Disappear into the departure gate at the airport. Drop someone off and wait until you’ve pulled away from the kerb to cry.

But here we are with a bittersweet, very last festive season in the family home. An almost unbearable number of times to feel the homeliness of the rooms. Smell the water on the garden, which conjures up the long-gone pepper tree where hours and hours would disappear in play. See the plates and cups and chattels of childhood. The different selves I once was around each corner.

Tomorrow I may only feel relief that the ongoing task of keeping this crumbling old wreck is coming to an end. That its hideous carpets, old wallpaper and kitchen cupboards will be removed or spruced up. But today I am leaning in to the bittersweet sorrow.

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