Posted on January 19, 2015
A few kilometres outside the town where my family come from there is a dusty little dirt road called Perry Road, and if you turn and drive or walk a little way, you will come to an open gate with an engraved wooden sign that says Perry’s Place. Turn into the gate and follow the winding gravel to the top of the hill and you will find the brown brick veneer house that my grandparents built when I was a little girl.
With three bedrooms and a rumpus room for the grandchildren, it was a palatial mansion after the tiny cottage next to the bottom pub and in front of the cemetery that they had lived in with their large family for so long. From its place on top of the hill, you can look down past the garden and the expansive paddock below to the (Waranga) Basin, shimmering like a road mirage in the near distance.
I used to feel like I knew every nook and cranny of Perry’s Place. Inside there were the oranges, browns and sunshiney yellows of the early 80s decor, the red velvet lounge suite, the expansive front windows with their striped shutters. There were mysteries to be inspected in the big brown storage cupboards, magical vintage dresses hanging in the spare room closet, butchers paper to draw on inside the yellow laminex kitchen cupboard, and always the jar of minties on top of the fridge.
In the guest bathroom was a big plastic, pink clam shell full of scented powder, and a big powder puff for when you finished bathing. There used to be a trio of bath toys portraying Noddy, Big Ears and Mr Plod that dated from the childhoods of my father and his siblings.
Outside were the scattered ants nests, the brown brick veneer barbecue and the long picnic bench next to the pile of quartz rocks beneath an iron bark tree, the ancient red tractor to sit and play on, the upturned white boat hull, incongruous in the dead leaves behind the shed, the pile of leftover brown bricks, the small tank on a stand, and the greenhouse, adorned with another engraved wooden sign reading The Mutton House. I don’t even know what the in-joke of that name is, to be honest, but I come from a family of country butchers, so there is no doubt a story there that it is remiss of me not to know. Most of these things remain, for the great grandchildren to explore, but The Mutton House no longer drips with hanging flowers,greenery and the wetness of the days watering. It dried up long ago during MaMa’s long decline, and though PaPa kept up the rest of the garden as best as he could, the little greenhouse has stood as a bittersweet reminder of the ways things once were.
The paddock behind the house is where my dad flew his ultralight plane for those precious instants, as I wrote about here. I used to walk down to that paddock as a 14 year old, with MaMa’s white basket, full of books and diaries and little things, for a picnic, but never quite knew what to do with myself among the stubbly dried grass and the flies once I arrived.
A couple of paddocks further over is the old slaughterhouse, rusted, dilapidated and in serious danger of collapse in a strong wind, it is where my grandfather and father and uncles used to slaughter animals for Papa’s butcher shop. It looks so benign and picturesque now, mellowed and strangely lovely, belying it’s bloody past. We used to go for long walks with MaMa, my siblings and I, along with my cousins, down Perry Road, toward the slaughterhouse and then into the surrounding bush. MaMa pointed out the bush flowers and told us their names. If you walk further again down Perry Road, you will reach Bushy’s, the place where my mother’s family staked their claim in the 1850s and in perpetuity (so far).
I was brought from the banks of the channel to Perry’s Place on the day my father and brother died. Our large extended family gathered there in the following days to grieve. That was one of the reasons that I chose to get married in the paddock adjacent, on a very hot Summers day in 2007; I wanted to reclaim that place for joy, as it should be, as it is. Our wedding arch, made of found sticks and bolted into the earth still remains in the paddock, a portal for the sheep who wander about there.
It is the place where the heart of my family pulses, and that tenacious muscle has beat on even without MaMa, so strong are the ties that bind us, we are still tethered together as though she was there.
I know that not every family has a place as precious as Perry’s Place, and Perry Road, with Bushy’s at the other end, and I am so grateful to have a place where blood and love and history are so deeply embedded, and to have grown up with such a blessed legacy. My grandfather is quite elderly now, and growing more wary of living alone, though different family members come out and see him at least once a day, and he has other systems in place. He wonders how long he can continue to live there by himself and still be able to drive in his ancient brown V-Dub. He thinks that if he has to leave home and go to the aged care hostel in town, where MaMa lived, that he will just have to sit and wait to die.
I never want him to go that place, never want him to leave Perry’s Place, up there on the hill. I fear for him and for all of us, and our bonds as family, if he has to leave and Perry’s Place is Perry’s Place no more.
linking up with #IBOT over at Essentially Jess