Tonight as I sat alone in the kitchen, the house silent except for the ticking of the clock on the wall above my chair, I wondered why I find this sound so comforting.
It is a sound of memories, I thought, and for some reason it took me back to my grandparents house, in the country I was born – Africa.
I only really knew ten years of my childhood as a grandchild, for it was in my tenth year that my mother and father, my brother and I moved to Australia.
Those memories are firmly planted in my mind though. At least my perception of them anyway, which through time and imagination could be slightly skewed.
My grandparents didn’t sleep in the same bedroom.
My grandmother said it was because “granddad snores.” Maybe he did, I don’t know. If he did I can understand.
As I grew older though, through comments made I suspect there was more than just the snoring separating them.
His room was at the far corner of the back of the house. A dark room with thick heavy curtains because of his “migraines”, and it smelled medicinal in there, but also like the tin of snuff he kept on his bedside table. On at least one occasion I opened the tin and took a cautious sniff myself, but couldn’t quite understand what it was all about.
I still remember the smell of that snuff tin.
My grandmothers room was next door to his, light and florally feminine- (the colour mauve always comes to mind when I think of my grandmother) and it smelled like ponds moisturising night cream, lavender and faint traces of perfume.
She liked to read, my nan.
We’d go to the second hand bookstore and she’d always check each book looking for a particular page number which she would circle in pen (yes in pen – the ultimate sin.) so that she would know that she had already read that particular book.
I remember thinking how naughty that was of her, because you weren’t supposed to draw in books!
The spare room, where we slept when we went to stay was actually the main bedroom at the side of the house, and it was huge compared to their tiny rooms.
Two single beds with flannel bedspreads with fringes that touched the floor, each with its own bedside table with two matching oriental lamps.
I loved these lamps because they were ornate, painted gold with dragons and bright red tassels dangling from the shades. Perhaps they were extremely tacky, but as a child they were wonderfully magical and exotic.
Only now do I wonder why they had these lamps? I don’t recall them ever going to China, or even having an interest in anything of the orient.
I could be wrong, but I think I remember that if you switched the lamps on something would turn around, move?
I can’t be sure.
In that spare room, with all the curtains closed at night it was so very dark. I mean the blackest of all pitch black dark.
So dark that if you held your hand in front of your face you couldn’t see a thing.
The cats would come in to sleep with us though, and that was nice. Their warm bodies curled against our own, and the comforting sound of their purring rumbling against our stomachs.
I don’t know why I’m saying “us” and “our” because I don’t actually recall my brother sleeping in there, or my mother or father. I’m sure someone else was in the other single bed, but I’m just not sure who.
I do recall one time having to share one of those single beds with my Auntie Jackie. It was a bit strange sharing a bed with her, but not nearly quite as scary in the pitch black when you had someone else so close.
I used to both love it, and hate it when my Auntie Jackie and all my cousins would come to stay.
I liked my younger girl cousin, but two of my cousins were older boys and they liked to shoot all the bullfrogs in my grandfathers ponds (he was always building ponds in the yard) with pellet guns.
I thought they were mean and horrible and I’d tell them to “leave the poor frogs alone!”
They would go home and there would be a bloodbath of dead and maimed frogs lying around the edges of the ponds.
I still remember the smell of dead frogs.
I remember touching their stiff little bodies, legs like black twigs… and feeling so very angry.
In the mornings, just as dawn would break, from that spare room in my grandmother’s house you could clearly hear the roosters crowing from the chicken coop down the back of the garden.
This too was a comforting sound.
I spend many hours playing there in the coop with the chickens.
I’d mix their dry food with water, pour it into bowls and offer up the slop in some kind of pretend tea party game.
The chickens didn’t seem to mind.
They only got upset when I tried to look at the eggs that they were sitting on.
I still remember the smell of the chicken feed mixed with water. Still remember the smell of the coop- feathers and poop, and risking stealing a little hand into the nest to feel the warmth of the eggs.
My grandmother kept photo albums in that spare room. I wasn’t supposed to touch those (there were many things I wasn’t supposed to touch in there) but I recall flipping through the pages staring at very old black and white photos of strangers I’d never met.
I was fascinated by the pictures that had been touched up/doctored somehow with colour. You know those? I don’t know how they did it, but the women’s faces had rouged cheeks and red lipstick, which made them look even more glamorous.
That was back in the day when all women had triangular breasts, cinched in waists and wore hats.
I thought they were beautiful.
It was in that very room that one night, I began reading some “womens magazines” belonging to my grandmother.
I don’t know whether they were left there “casually on purpose” or what, but in this magazine was an article (or maybe it was just an ad, I don’t know.) all about a girl getting her period.
I can’t remember how it was worded, but I remember feeling curious, yet shocked by the whole thing.
It explained those funny white things my mum kept in her top cupboard and would always say when I asked her what they were….” You don’t need to know now. I’ll tell you when you’re bigger!”
So many memories in that place, that house, that garden, that spare room with its exotic oriental magical lamps.
The bull frogs, the ponds with lily pads and bright orange goldfish…The donkey called “Suzie” my grandmother rescued from some Africans.
The time my silly father tried to ride Suzie and he threw her off onto the ground.
The bird aviaries….the ducks. Chrissie the duck (born on Christmas day) who shat all over my dress when I tried to pick her up and carry her. The time when we came home and all the ducks were dead. Slaughtered…or gotten by a wild animal. I never knew. It was a horrible sight. All the adults were very somber.
The tree house my grandfather built down the back by Suzie’s pen.
The tyre swing.
The young apple tree…that sprouted one tiny apple, and I couldn’t resist taking a bite. (I got in trouble over that.)
The graves of my grandparents dogs down the back yard, that gave me nightmares.
I saw one die on the back lawn. My grandfather was there. It had some sort of seizure, lost control of it’s bowels and just died.
“Why did he poo? ” I asked my grandfather, because it horrified me. So undignified.
“It’s just what happens” he said.
The vegetable garden that I’d play in….eating the sweet young corn straight from the husks.
Pinching all my grandfathers strawberries.
Picking passionfruit from the vine….and grapes…
You never went hungry in their yard.
Some are memories I’d rather forget, some bittersweet, but mostly fond memories.
I don’t know if that spare room was where the ticking clock was, or whether it was a clock in the lounge room , or whether there even was a ticking clock at all in my grandparents house which is responsible for this feeling of comfort.
Whatever the case… I love the sound of a ticking clock.
It is the sound of memories.