Thursday, 8 August 2013

The House on Memory Lane

Life has been a complete whirlwind since April, with AS exams, university visits and a move of house. My family and I have moved from a little Yorkshire village near to Skipton to Blackburn, where I go to school. The last few weeks have been spent frantically packing up our old house and then battling the multitude of boxes blocking doorways in the new one!

Packing up at Beckfoot (our old house) meant we had to go through lots of our belongings and decide which ones to keep. We brought with us all of Daddy and Louise's clothes when we left London, so had eight bin bags full in the attic. My mum debated the idea of sorting through them, but each garment holds so many memories it would be impossible to choose a few to keep. They are not items of clothing, but the fabric into which my childhood was woven. Many of Daddy's t-shirts were still folded in neat piles, having been hastily transfered from wardrobe to bin bag when we moved away from London. Sometimes at the weekend he let us choose his clothes, and every time we searched through the stack until we found his brightest yellow shirt. Somehow it felt magical to decide what he wore, even though I knew that he could have told you with his eyes closed what outfit we would pick. We also found a hold-all bag that Daddy packed for the weekend away that we never got to go on. He died on the motorway before we got there. Somehow it seems strange to think that we left home as a family of five, but it was only Daddy's suitcase that came back. Maybe when my brother and I are a little older we can have another look at the clothing, but for the time being the bags are stashed behind a wardrobe in my room. Some things aren't belongings, some things are the memories that we cling to for fear that the will be taken away.

Another task was going through the teddy bears. Like lots of children, over the years my siblings and I managed to acquire more teddies than there are blades of grass in a meadow. The vast majority were distributed between charity shops, but some we are keeping. Before Louise and I were born, our parents didn't find out whether we were boys or girls. They disliked the hospital labels of 'Twin 1' and 'Twin 2', so decided to nickname each of us one of their middle names. Louise was given Mum's middle name: 'Elizabeth', shortened to 'Betty'. I got lumped with 'Denis'. Fortunately neither stuck! On the day we were born Daddy went out and bought each of us a little stuffed toy. Louise had a lady bird and I a lion; and they were called 'Denis' and 'Betty'. They are both staying.

We also had much larger bears, who shared the titles 'Denis' and 'Betty' with our smaller companions. All the Denis and Betty teddies were much loved, and known as our 'special friends'. We took them with us on all holidays, so naturally they went through the accident with us. Whilst the rest of my family were all either killed or put into comas by the impact, I remained conscious throughout the whole thing. I remember being alone in the hospital with strangers cutting off my clothes, pulling at my body in ways that I didn't want them too and asking me questions over and over again. I don't remember being frightened, just lost and confused. One minute we were going on holiday and it was a beautiful sunny day. The next I was lying on a table with blinding lights above me, trying desperately to stop a man with a mask on slicing my nickers off. Many hours later, a nurse came to tell me that they had found a teddy for me. It was Betty Bear. I was overjoyed to see her, she was as much a family member to me as my siblings were. I thought that they had chosen to give me Betty because she was Louise's, and I wanted Louise but she wasn't here so I had to have Betty instead. It didn't occur to my five year old mind that they had no idea which of the children Betty had belonged to, she was just the least damaged teddy that they had managed to rescue from the wreckage. Betty was given to me wrapped in a towel because she was still wet from where they'd washed her. I couldn't for the life of me work out why Betty had needed a bath. It took me many years to come to understand that many of the things in the car had been flung into ditches and lost during the collision, or were simply too blood soaked to be salvaged. The accident and bereavement that followed were so humongous and incomprehensible to me that in the first few months, the loss of Lenny, a lion with a jangly ball in his tummy, was more heartbreaking than the loss of Louise. I didn't really realise that Daddy was never coming back until several years later; I guess as a child the knowledge that you will never see your father ever again is too overpowering to comprehend.
Denis Bear

Another teddy that we came across was unfamiliar, except for the hospital band around his arm upon which 'Hello, my name is Brown Bear and I belong to Sophie Thomas' was written in faded brown ink. I remember the band being put on him; I wanted to know why his band was red and mine was white. The nurse said red bands were normally for people with allergies, and my cousin Lottie said that my uncle would have a red band because he's allergic to cats. Mum wonders if Brown Bear was a present given to Louise at one of the Christmas gatherings we used to have with Daddy's friends from
Brown Bear
university. If anyone remembers anything about Brown Bear, please can you let me know?

We also stumbled across Ronnie and Freddie, dolls given to Louise and I as babies by our great aunt and uncle, also called Ronnie and Freddie (as you can see, my parents were spectacularly creative when assigning names to our toys!). We loved Ronnie and Freddie, which we expressed by biting their heads whilst we were teething. They were the only thing we ever had that belonged to both of us. Although the doll on the left in the photograph was originally christened Freddie and the other Ronnie, I though of both of them as 'RonnieandFreddie', which was fine as they were always together anyway.
Ronnie and Freddie

In addition, we are also saving Honey Lamb, of which we actually have two. Nana May, my paternal grandmother, was visiting Aunty Margi in Australia when Louise and I were born, but when she came home she brought a soft lamb for each of us. These lambs were treasured possessions, and when we were older we decided to name them. I was much more creative than Louise with names, and when it came to naming toys she usually copied me through lack of motivation to come up with something herself. I chose 'Honey Lamb', and Louise promptly called hers the same thing. At least it was better than having two 'Nana May Lambs', which is what they would have been called using my
Honey Lamb
parents' naming strategy!

Baby Squirrel and Baby Sunflower have also joined the ranks of the saved. They are dolls that we gave each other for our birthday one year. Mum took each of us to the shop separately, Louise chose Baby Squirrel for me and I chose Baby Sunflower for her. I think they are the only birthday presents we ever gave each other, and they both occupy a very special place in my heart.
Baby Squirrel

When Mum was emptying a high cupboard, the contents spontaneously fell out on her head. The heavy marble chess set that landed on her shoulder didn't make her cry, but the newspapers did. On the day that each of us was born, Daddy went out and bought us newspapers. He wrapped them in plastic and wrote labels on them: 'Maybe she'd like them on her 18th or 21st birthday'. Like he somehow knew that he wouldn't be there to hand the papers over himself.
My brother's newspapers

Moving house has made me realise that whilst it is memories that we carry with us in our hearts, those memories are intwined so tightly with our belongings. It is said that you should treasure only loved ones and not objects, but in my experience, when a loved one has died their material possessions become the keepers of memories themselves.