We all play the lead role in our own life story. That is until we get married and have kids. After that, the best one can hope for is the odd, sympathetic nomination for best supporting role, celebrated by a hastily constructed card on fathers’ day promising a lie-in. But I’ve become used to residing outside of the limelight. Every now and again, however, my role around here is reduced even further to a walk-on part in someone else’s story.
Periodically, a character shows up from Roundwood’s past and with their arrival, my story briefly intersects with another in which my house has played a part. They are sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking, but always tales which make my efforts to keep this old girl standing all the more rewarding. In a way, I feel like a memory conservationist.
One sunny afternoon a few years ago, I saw through our kitchen window a very old woman dressed entirely in black, slowly making her way across the cobbled yard. Her style of dress was from another era, and were it not for the gentleman accompanying her, I could have been forgiven for thinking that I had seen a ghost. As we weren’t expecting any ghosts, I bravely asked Hannah to investigate, and naturally she invited her in for tea.
The spectral woman was Enid Cosby, 96 years old and returning to show her son the house that she grew up in. Time may have stooped her body, but her memories of almost a century before remained as intact as if they were yesterday. The stories of her adventures around the grounds, running through the woods with her playmates, could have been told by my girls, if they weren’t so busy running through the woods on their own adventures. Time stands still here.
Enid was delightful and re-wound Roundwood back to another time for us. She recalled being forced into afternoon naps in the drawing room, and stuffing ducklings through a drainage pipe, to the delight of her companions who watched them shoot out the other end, dazed but unharmed. She came here to savour her idyllic childhood one last time.
She also reached back in her memory and pulled out her wedding day for us, which she reconstructed in vivid detail. On a bright summer’s day, the guests gathered on the lawn at the side of the house, laughing, sipping champagne and awaiting the arrival of the new bride. She appeared through a purpose built doorway, that until a few days previously had been the central bay window of the drawing room. And yes, it had its intended effect. The gathering erupted in rapturous applause as she made her dramatic entrance through the doorway-for-a-day. It seems that going over-board for weddings isn’t a modern phenomenon.
But the stories can break your heart as fast as they warm it. Not long after Enid, a man arrived with his five year old daughter, got out of his car and stared up at the house. I watched him for awhile, and seeing that he had no intention of venturing inside, I came out to say hello. He told me that he had been married at Roundwood and as he was telling me this, my mother-in-law Rosemarie arrived, recognized him and asked him how his wife was. His eyes welled up with tears and before he could get the words out, his daughter ran over to him, hopped up into his arms, put her hands over his mouth and said, “No daddy, please don’t cry anymore.”
Hannah brought the little girl inside to play with our girls, so her father’s mouth was free to tell of his wife’s recent passing, and one of his happiest memories of their time together: their wedding day at Roundwood.
The sight of her two little hands holding back the flood of her father’s grief would make a statue cry. But watching him breathe in the memories of their day here and smiling at small forgotten moments recalled between himself and Rosemarie, had a calming, soothing effect on him, and when he was saying good-bye he said it with a smile.
These brief encounters give me a glimpse into the life that came before me in this fabulous house; of the loving memories that fill every corner of my stomping ground. I store them all away for the more tedious, mundane moments around here; and when I’m dragging the bins up our long driveway, in the rain at midnight, I try to do it lightly, because I’m dragging them through someone else’s memory.