Preserving your own personal history for future generations is just as important as researching your ancestors’ lives. Adelaide-based professional storykeeper Annie Payne has a practical solution to remembering and documenting your childhood home.
Some years ago I patiently completed a cross-stitch sampler with the words ‘Home Sweet Home’. It’s now hung in seven different houses over the past 12 years; in town, country and interstate locations, some of which felt like home, while others definitely, despite my best homemaking efforts, didn’t. My husband, who spent a childhood living on various RAF bases around England and elsewhere, has found it difficult to put down roots and to call any one place home. “It’s where I hang my hat,” he says.
Over the years I’ve followed my Scottish grandmother, Jessie Wallace’s example of making my home a welcoming place for family and friends, whether home was a large, noisy house filled with adults, children, friends and pets, or a tiny country cottage for one. While I agree with TS Eliot’s quote about home, the one that best mirrors my belief about where I live is a quote by US literary critic, Barbara Johnson: “The most important things in your home are people.”
What memories do you have about home? How many of the places you have lived in felt like home? What created that feeling ? Was it the location? And who were the people who helped make it a home for you?
Are your memories of where you grew up happy ones? Did the bits and bobs you’ve kept from that time help to create that feeling? Maybe your music collection, your photo albums and framed images of special people, a shelf or two of favourite books or the patchwork quilt Nan made especially for you helped to create the familiar ‘my home’ atmosphere?
Try this practical exercise to revive those memories of the place you think of as your first home.
1 Take a blank sheet of paper and a pen or pencil.
2 Draw the outside walls of your home, marking the front and back doors, verandas and other architectural features.
3 Now fill in the walls of the rooms inside – bedrooms, kitchen, living room/s, bathrooms and so on.
4 Select your bedroom first and close your eyes for a few minutes, focussing your mind on the memories of that room. Ask yourself: was there carpet or a polished floor; what colour were the curtains or blinds; where was your bed; were the walls painted or wallpapered; did you do your schoolwork at a desk or table? Perhaps you had to share the bedroom with a brother or sister – were you the one who was neat and tidy or was your bedroom always scattered with books, paper and favourite toys?
5 Draw all of these features, and write down any thoughts and associated memories that percolate into your mind, on the side or back of the diagram.
6 Now move on to the living room and repeat the process, sketching in the various features and furniture of each room, and jotting down notes about the feelings associated with this drawing technique. Where did Dad sit to read the evening newspaper? Was there a radiogram or TV? Did Mum keep a sewing basket beside her chair to darn socks or perhaps to knit while listening to or watching her favourite show? Where did visitors sit? Was there special china used for guests only?
7 Repeat the same process as with your bedroom and move on through each room of the house, using arrows to point out various colours, features and family heirlooms. Make notes of your feelings associated with each room, for example, “Mum sent Ben or me (and sometimes both of us when she didn’t know who the culprit was) to our bedroom when we misbehaved, sometimes without any dinner! I hated that.”
8 Did your home include a cellar or attic? Were you allowed to go there? What was it used for?
9 Use your senses as memory triggers to help you to capture those elusive memories – do you remember the sound of Dad’s radio in his den as he listened to the races? Perhaps the scent of lavender reminds you of the smell of blankets from the linen press, or the smell of bacon frying transports you back to your student days.
10 Now expand your drawing to include the garden or block your family home was located upon. Did your family have a car and where was it parked each night? Was there a vegetable patch or fruit trees? Did your family keep chooks? Did you have a cubby or tree house, who played there and where was it located? Where did you keep your bicycle? Where did you have fireworks or Guy Fawkes Night? Did you sleep out on the back lawn during summer? Continue filling in as many details about your family home as you can.
Now rummage through your photos to locate some pictures of home and compare these to the mental image you have revived. With the passage of time, how does your home stand up? While the memories are fresh in your mind, either write, or record (using either audio or video) your special memories and upload the finished result straight onto your computer. Your grandchildren and their children will be fascinated to gain this very personal insight into what made a house your home in 2016.
I guess that many of my ideas of home are entwined with the provision of hospitality, be it offering a bed or two to interstate visitors, setting extra places around the dinner table for unexpected guests or putting the kettle on to make a pot of tea when the doorbell rings. Each year I make many jars of jam, marmalade and chutney to take as small gifts when I visit family or friends as a little taste from my home.
Living as part of a large, close family, many of my earliest memories are of Gran’s rambling farmhouse near Beachmere in Queensland. Whether helping her roll some pastry for a fruit pie while the joint of beef slowly roasted for dinner, or rubbing homemade butter into the flour for a batch of scones for an afternoon tea with the stock agent to discuss cattle prices, the kitchen always seemed to be the heart of her home.
Inside the bougainvillea-covered summerhouse, I remember dressing up in my auntie’s old evening frocks, hats, sparkly earrings and high heels to play the ‘lady’ while my boy cousins dressed in Dad’s and Pa’s old college boating jackets or service uniforms. Once dressed up, we played our favourite game of ‘family’, setting a small table with cups and plates for dinner and putting various babies (often a cat or two ) to bed in old fruit crates, and making mud pies with which to feed our less than impressed babies.
Best of all early memories of home was of snuggling down in bed, after an action-packed day on the farm, under the fragrant lavender-scented sheets, with the sounds of fruit bats squabbling in the mango tree outside the bedroom window, as I drifted off into a deep sleep, safe in the place I first called ‘home’.
Read more about Annie Payne’s work at History From The Heart