Smells are so evocative… They can help us tap into memories in an instant and transport us back to particular times and places. This can be good, but maybe not all of the time. My mother’s house is sold and the contracts are being exchanged this weekend. After that I will no longer be able to let myself into number 33 as there will be new owners living there. I will never again catch that particular smell of hers that I used to get when I walked in through her front door. My brother has been clearing out her things and recently he brought me her furs because he didn’t quite know how to dispose of them.
Fur in 2013 is just not fashionable or ethical. It’s all about fake fur these days, but I remember my Mam wearing her furs proudly. They were always kept for special occasions and the one that has survived best is a fur stole that she had made for my wedding a million years ago. I have several photos of her wearing it, and she looked lovely in them. Holding this fur on my knees while traveling from her house to mine this week, I could get her own particular smell from it. Holding it to my face for hours afterwards crying into it and feeling the ache of loss so badly knowing that I will never see her again was particularly emotional and sad.
Having had to go back and forward over the past couple of months to sort out the removal of her furniture, the clearing out of her possessions, and the finalisation of her utility bills has allowed me to gradually let go the house that I grew up in. As the fixtures were given away and the cupboards were cleared out, the memories went into skips, other people’s homes, and to charity shops to be recycled into other people’s lives.
I went back for the last time on Tuesday night along with my adult children, my husband, my brother and his wife. We were all saying goodbye to a house that contained many personal memories built up over many years. We sat on stools that we had brought with us and told stories of different times there. There were tears and laughter all around as we swapped tales. An old neighbour saw my car and popped in because she wanted to say good bye to us. We recounted hair raising stories of times when we were young kids alongside her children and we chatted about how times had changed but how lovely life in Drimnagh had been and how much she had loved having my mam as a neighbour.
Over the fireplace in the now empty room there was a picture hanging. It was an artist’s charcoal impression taken from a photo of my Father that that my brother Phil (who lived in Ibiza at the time) had given as a gift to my mother some years before. I remember him proudly presenting this beautiful framed gift to her and her looking blankly at it asking “who is this”. My brother Phil indignantly responded “it’s Dad of course” to which my mother replied “That’s not your father, it looks like a Spanish man to me”. I think that because it was created in Ibiza, and that the artist had focused on my Dads dark hazel eyes, there was an exotic slant to it. According to my mam at the time, it wasn’t a version of her husband. Her children all disagreed.
Time moved on, and she grew to love it and the image of him. This beloved picture has always been subsequently referred to as “The Spanish Man” and there was a poignancy and sadness in the air as we recounted the time when it was originally hung. I was completely heartbroken as it was lifted off her wall, as this was the last of her possessions to be removed. It will be hung in John’s house and will be loved forever by him and his wife, but it was dreadful watching it being taken down. I just couldn’t stop my tears.
As we departed the house and walked through the empty rooms, I was so profoundly sad I found it hard to catch my breath. Clichés about houses being all bricks and mortar are easily spoken, but the bricks and mortar contain so many stories and memories like snap shots of lives lived within the walls. They were mostly happy ones, and I will treasure them forever.
It’s really difficult to articulate the feelings that I had as I walked out through the hallway. I looked back and gazed up the stairs, and heard so many ghostly echoes of the voices that used to resonate within those walls. I set the alarm code and stepped out for the very last time and gently closed the door behind me as I locked up a lifetime of O’Neill memories in number 33 Mourne Road. We have some ‘things’ like Dad’s picture, but memories, sounds and images are stored in my mind’s eye ready to be taken out and looked it again and again…
This is my absolute destiny…