My beautiful house, Summertown Villa, is now sold, and I am moving. As everyone who has moved knows—and who hasn’t? —this requires sorting, purging and packing. For some, myself included, it requires nerves of steel, or at least an intentional slow pacing. Some say the process can be akin to a lobotomy, triggering moments of paralytic indecision. For example, that lock of blond hair, shorn away when my son was two (now 18), still taped to its First Hair Cut certificate…do I save it, or ruthlessly throw it away?
There are lots of reasons over the years that I have fallen in love with a house—the architecture, the neighbourhood, the neighbours, the garden, the birdsong, and equally important, the events that made it real—my son’s first anything, and my subsequent loosening of control, a partner’s (or my own) victory or abject despair, a parent’s death, or really any of life’s milestones, happy or sad, that are indelibly inscribed there.
A novel I once read suggested that a cataclysmic natural event, like an earthquake, could open a wall, so to speak, between the past and the present, the living and the dead. For a short time folks who once inhabited a home might very well be able to sit down to dine with those who currently lived there. Clearly, this required a suspension of disbelief, a trust that the spirits that once roamed could resurrect. How fact-based that might be is anyone’s guess, but I do know that the sometimes earth-shattering process of moving opens up a chasm, from where all my ghosts of the past come to rove. Once again, all the people I have been, as well as those who have journeyed with me, come to call.
It has been my experience in moving that the job of sorting, packing and purging is best done alone, with each family member cleaning out the detritus of his or her own past, keeping what matters most and letting go of the rest. It is a sort of clearing out, an inventory, a “getting current,” in order to move on. With heightened senses, with past and present meeting, taking stock in those early days of moving in and then finally moving out, my house also again reveals itself.
I am told infrared or thermal photography can capture the history of a building, its lost walls, windows or doors, even from centuries ago because apparently heat still radiates. Might it also be possible for past inhabitants of a certain house to leave a sort of thermal trail? While I never caught sight of the greengrocer who originally built Summertown Villa in 1862 on the then outskirts of Oxford, growing fat selling fruits and vegetables, or the Oxford University agricultural don who added the now listed conservatories, or whoever transplanted the seedlings that became the giant Redwood (Wellingtonia) trees half way down the garden, I sensed their presence every day in all they built and left behind. And so accordingly, I depart, say goodbye and thank you, leaving my own happy trail at Summertown Villa circa 2021.
Wishing you a February full of lucky tracks.