Friday, February 17, 2006

Going Back

Ireland of the Welcomes, Jul/Aug, 1993
It was the same. There at the roadway a pair of granite gate-posts; the crumbling sides of the arched bridge; the stream beneath.

It was different though. The gate-posts lacked the granite caps of old, prised off to add a touch to some bungalow's modern splendour; the crumbling bridge sides had been pointed and plastered to keep out the rain and frost; the stone-filled stream seemed no longer a hundred feet below the road.

We looked up the lane -- that lane I tramped from school with a burgeoning load of school-books; where a tin bread-bin would sit in a nook with a warm loaf inside (the lane being too long and rough for deliverymen to traverse in comfort); where envelopes or milk bottles nestled in an old, bird-proof, electricity-meter box on a post -- and there was the iron gate into the field.

Somehow, the white, new Nissan car didn't seem the match of the ancient lane, so we got out and walked -- picking our steps; (As my mother used to remind me on the way to school in the morning -- 'Pick your steps, now' she'd say, and I'd always wonder, as children wonder, what the words meant); picking our steps across the rutted lane where a small rivulet now ran ('That wasn't there before'); up the lane where cattle grazed in the fenced-off field ('The old hedgerow has grown neglected'); and where two horses ('horses!') eyed us solemnly from afar.

It was fifteen years or more since leaving. Brig had never been there, but had listened to my tales of roaming the fields, playing in the river, all the childish things I'd done when it was still possible to be a child, and still okay to play.

There was the house, or what was left. The windows were gone, the roof removed, and all the slates taken. The garden, overgrown even in the past, was levelled. The sheds still stood, but likewise were roofless. Everything of childhood was swept up and tidyed, put into some cardboard box in a back-room and backwater of local history.

'The Walshes lived there.' Who could doubt it? I stood at the iron gate looking up towards the yard. There was the lone tree of old -- a Fairy Tree, we were told -- the cattle track they used to and from the river; the green sweep of the field rising towards the furthest hedgerows; the woods beyond. Nearer to hand and down the bank, the boulder Dad dug out of the farmyard and dumped in the river; the green, wet bog (not a real bog, but soft enough to get your boot stuck in if you weren't careful); the briars -- now long, straggling, and barren -- where thumbnail-sized blackberries had grown.

'Shall we go in?' Brig said, looking at the cattle in the field, meaning that we might climb over the gate and walk towards the buildings. I didn't think so.

There were ghosts in that house. Not the familiar ghosts that kept us company day in and out, knocking secret knocks on the front door; standing in the windows during the day; creeping up behind at night.

They were other ghosts, the ghosts of childhood things that were better left undisturbed unless, like the deep-remembered drop to the river from my schoolboy bridge, they would diminish in adulthood to insignificance.

Once I had known every bush and tree; every twist and turn; each stone and pebble. Now, everything was subtly different. I decided it was better to stand here, some hundred yards from the house ('Was it a mere hundred yards? It seemed such a long way before') and just look. It grew cold and we didn't stay long.

Things large in memory look too small up close. Some times and some places you can never go back . But you can still visit -- and remember...


Anonymous said...

I had a dream last year. I was back in Castle Park in the first house we lived in.

I'm sure it all means something.

Analyse and get back to me.


Willie_W said...

I often dream about the original house I lived in, the one in these stories. I tend to see it as if the site has been renovated, and a similar, though new house is built there always by someone else. I've decided that it is a symbol for wishing that things were as simple as they were then, while realising that I can't go back but must move on. Ain't dreams great?

fitz said...

Hmm. There's also the dream where we're in the flat in Ballymun in the late 60s. Now there was a time.

Simpler ? Indeed. Happier ? I'll get back to you on that one :-)

Speaking as an old man who is not quite yet turned 40...
These days I find my happiness expressed through my children. Some people try to fulfill unsatisfied ambition through their kids. I'm much worse than that - I get so much happiness just watching them. Happiness. The greatest gift that I possess :-)

Anonymous said...

Going back to our childhood memories can be disturbing for a few of us. We were poor no doubt about it. That house was haunted as any house could be. Scary stories from that time come from my lips, my grown up kids listen in awe. I asked our Mother how she could stay in that house on her own when we were at school and Dad at work. She explianed that she felt from time to time a gentle warmth of the "friendly" ghost's hands on her hips, as if to say she was safe with "them". Weird and unexplained strange happenings went on in that house for years. When I visited the now tumbled down house some years ago, I felt I did not want to be there at all. My daughter went on a visit there a few years ago with her now husband. She felt nothing at all thankfully but brought me home a souviner of a stone which lay on the laneway up to the second gate leading to the house. I kept it for a while but decided it may hold something I did'nt want to have in my own home. I threw it in the bin.