Retracing Small Footsteps
Posted on August 1, 2013
I recently revisited the Mallee home of my childhood, after an absence of many years. Enough years that the little town seemed magically shrunken, as though the places in my memory had been experienced upon a road of stretched rubber, waiting to spring back into their true shape with a snap. The brevity of the visit added to the sense of the surreal. We stayed just an hour, passing through from the Wimmera. As we approached the town, Travelling on that strangely familiar straight road, I saw the far off little mountain and the towering wheat silos, those sights conjured blearily in my dreams by my childhood recollections, suddenly standing real again before me. In my mind I ordered the places in this town that I most wanted to see again.
The first place was the Centenary Park in the main St. Al, Perry and I met my twin brother and his girlfriend outside the park and then we walked inside. When I was a little girl, this park, along with the nearby steam train, formed an untidy triangle with our house and made for an extended playground. The park was large and full of many trees in my memory, with the far side housing several large aviaries, log cabins at the back and an old cannon gun in the very front corner. All were still there, only smaller, so much smaller. The largest aviary still housed the white cockatoos, but the outside of the cage now sported a big sign warning against sticking your fingers in the cage, altogether too late for the thumbnail that I lost to a cocky at a tender age.
I drank in the sights and then headed out the front gate with Perry in his rickety travel stroller, crossing the double roads of Broadway, with the train line right down the middle, towards our old house on the corner. It no longer had a fence, looked as though it hadn’t had a coat of paint since we left when I was 11, and was sadly bereft of both my mother’s deft touch in the garden, and the nectarine and apricot trees, so magical in my memory. A hundred little recollections crowded in my head, vying for my attention, as I tried to match them with the slightly incongruous sight before me.
We turned instead to the mounted steam train directly across the road. We walked over to meet the others, and we were soon climbing over the black engine, the drivers tiny cabin,the coal slope, the flat, rusted surface of the tank, and the sides of the little red caboose. The train had been extensively child proofed since the days when this was my play centre, and access to the inside of the red caboose barred off completely, but I remembered every inch, including the undercarriage, thick with ancient grease, and the flaking old black paint which claimed another one of my thumbnails as a child. What a miraculous, contained pleasure to find something that matched what I recalled.
We all walked back down Broadway, past the park and the pub that my dad used to frequent after work, until we were out front of the butchers shop that was my parents back in those days. It was virtually unchanged and if you squinted you could almost conjure my dad back there, behind the counter, behind the big wooden butchers block, in his blue shirt and striped apron. I found myself quite emotional about bringing Perry there, as he played on the footpath out the front of the shop, I imagined my dad in some parallel dimension of the past, being in the same place as this grandson who would never see him.
After taking a walk further up the street, looking at faded changes and banks that were no longer banks, we all drove up Mount St where I knocked my 4 front teeth back into my mouth in a bike accident, past the school that my siblings and I all attended, up the hill to Mount Wycheproof, officially the smallest mountain in the world, and another of the stages upon which my childhood was spent. The place is timeless, standing like a large, very rocky hill above the town. The Mount has a majestic quality for all of it’s small stature, and mystical too. The landmark has always been synonymous with the town and its fortunes, and it used to be the focus of an extraordinary foot race called King of the Mount, in which the contestants ran from Broadway to the top of The Mount carrying massive sacks full of wheat upon their backs, an event now defunct but immortalised in a sculpture beside Centenary Park. The town now holds an annual music festival called Music on The Mount. For me, it is a blessedly unchanged part of the intrinsic landscape of my imagination, and from that vantage point overlooking the town, I could place my small blonde self beside my adult form and reflect on how things change and stay the same.
This post is brought to you via Essentially Jess http://essentiallyjess.com/tag/ibot/ because it is blogged on a Tuesday.