I don’t think it’s especially healthy, or helpful to dwell on things one is sorry about – but I am doing just that, so there we have it.
I really lament the fact that our house isn’t the centre of the action. Doesn’t that sound petty and trite Agatha? I can barely believe I wrote it let alone admitted to it, but I have and did, so bare with me while I attempt an explanation before you condemn me to the heap of silly friends recently discarded, and with good reason.
What action you ask? Any action. Some action. A bustle and hustle and opening and closing of doors as people come in, and later – leave.
I grew up in just such a home Agatha, or at least that’s the way I remember it. My parents didn’t have the grandest house of the group. By comparison to many in their circle it was pretty close to average. We seldom had any of the ‘toys’ and attractions that made ringing the front door bell a necessity. Yet consistently our house was the terminal through which most people travelled. Old and young alike and often together in layers of generations. My parents had the uncanny and enviable knack of melting between everyone and making them feel welcome.
Adding extra places to the lunch or dinner tables wasn’t anything that made my Mum frown. Opening more bottles and getting out extra glasses delighted my Dad. There seemed to be food in abundance at short notice and laughter reigned, well not always; sometimes hot and very heavy debates with slamming fists and bouncing stemware took place along the length of the table. But people returned so the differences of opinions it seems, seldom lasted.
I can clearly see the net curtains in the dining room sticking into the room at right angles as the hot wind blew in and tickled the candle flames. We had large, long wide sash windows and the terolleens kept out the dust and mosquitos. Sometimes the filmy white would settle over a diner like a veil and they’d swot it off like a fly, talking animatedly all the while as though nothing could be more normal. But still every one came back for more.
The food was neither fancy nor exotic. The wine probably drinkable, if barely, but the ‘feeling’ was priceless. It’s that intangible essence I want so badly to create so that our children look back on their home and think of it in terms of merry movement.
To my small eyes at the time, it seemed like I was a spectator at a show. When children were around, or older brothers, I was a participant, but more often than not I was a voyeur. Part of the party – and yet somehow not.
I don’t want to give the impression that my parents were what one would term ‘social’. Not in the least. Indeed they steered well clear of what might be called the ‘Durban social set’, but their group of friends was tight knit and consistent. Expanding occasionally to include travellers, or connections buffeted into the ring by a variety of circumstances, but for the most part throughout the thirty five years of their life lived in Durban, the collection remained astonishingly faithful to the original list.
To look back through the boxes of photos that I’ve squirrelled out of my Mum’s house and into my own, it’s almost uncanny how many photos there are of people laughing around a table. The same people perched on sofas watching the Wimbledon finals, necks craned towards the boxy Telefunken television set, youngest on the floor, adults doubled up on armchairs, the restless standing.
Had I the inclination towards order, I could easily arrange the now fading and fraying kodak prints chronologically. Many of the same faces but always in the same backdrop – 34 Wallace Road.
If anything I think you would agree I lean more towards the antisocial than the opposite. On the whole I am content with my own company and guard fiercely our increasingly limited time as a family of four – well six if you count the dogs, which, I do. I have to thus define my desire, if not for your sake, certainly for mine: I am thrilled that we are as a unit – self sufficient, and don’t have to rely on crowds of people to jolly us along and fill in large gaps. But – I seem to hanker after wanting to fill the house with troupes of people when the need arises.
I have encouraged the children to bring their friends to our house before heading off to parties; begged them to have them around for dinners, suggested they lunch with us after sporting events. I’ve all but placed adverts enticing the clans to loiter amidst our clutter without a hint of success. You might be thinking Agatha, that perhaps this should be interpreted as a personal issue; I’m aware my culinary abilities are unreliable – but we have offered to buy in; I’ve been told that I use ‘freaky’ expressions that no-one in Canada understands, but I’ve vowed to stay silent. Try as I may, the chosen hubs don’t seem to be mine.
It’s very clear that our children are embarrassed of us, but isn’t that fairly standard teenage behaviour Agatha? I was mortified when my friends were over and my Dad was wearing a Speedo, and although a fine figure of a man, there can’t be a child on earth who thinks their male parent looks great in an itsy bitsy teeny, weeny bikini – bottom. But it never stopped me having any friend who would say yes come over and roll their eyes along with me.
My Mum went through a stage of changing into long skirts during the winter months. She felt the cold despite there being almost none given the tropical Durban climate, and yet had sewn for herself an impressive collection of acrylic fur A-line numbers which sent me face first into the depths of mortification. Sleepovers, however, went on despite my having to navigate the jaw dropping amazement of her nocturnal wardrobe. So my patience with our children wears thin on this score, my husband and I are far more conservative then my parents were, yet still apparently not fit for public exposure.
I remember we supped on occasion at the comparatively contemporary house of especially close friends of ours. Even as a small girl, I loathed their artwork. I was terrified of the black iron skinny sculptures that loitered along the passageways so I was too scared to venture to the loo. The pictures on the wall disturbed me, I found them confusing, provoking all the wrong types of thoughts. So I passed the visits either staring intently into peoples’ eyes to block out anything in peripheral vision, or looking at the floor. But our own artwork is rather gentle. We have few sculptures, unless one counts the rotund wooden hippopotamus at the foot of the stairs, so I can’t imagine our children are sparing their connections from sensory distress.
When a celebration crops up I feel the lack of faces coming and going most acutely. Back in the day not a fête passed by without a gang to participate, which made for all the more glee. It’s not as though the decorations drew people in, nor the table settings or dazzling centrepieces, the trappings were fairly consistent, bordering on – well boring, but the atmosphere was electric and more than made up for a lack of silver, gold or floral flair.
I don’t want to give the impression that she didn’t put in a lot of hard work. She polished silver and placed candles amidst the flowers and made sure there were chocolate coated peanuts in little silver troughs along the table; ironed the linen cloths and ensured fresh towels were stacked in the cloakroom. But she didn’t obsess or over dramatize, she just made it happen and beamed at the result.
To be honest Agatha, I’m far from a natural ‘entertainer’. Merely being in the kitchen increases my blood pressure, and that’s before I’ve so much as picked up a potato peeler. Being stubborn, vain or basically stupid, I soldier on battling through recipes, chopping and mashing from scratch, whereas given my level of skill a saner soul might turn to the numerous offerings commercially available to pass off, or at least enhance one’s own. Still, like a sculptor with a chisel I hammer on, because the very notion that I’m working towards a unifying experience gives me the dutch courage required to tackle the task, and makes me happy.
Our house is tidy-ish, clean-ish and enhanced greatly by scented candles, but I’m well aware there is dog hair sticking to the sofa skirt, side tables that wobble and lamps that don’t turn on. It isn’t perfect, not entirely, but still this doesn’t stop me wanting to have people within the walls, not all the time but certainly on demand.
So what is it Agatha? Why do they choose to go to other houses when I am so needy about having them herd the hoards to ours? Having been here for over five years we have a scattering of friends we rope in every now and then, but that casual swinging-door feel that I’m after would have to come from our children’s friends. More often then not, however, the door is closing as ours leave for theirs. And it makes me sad.
Your sorry friend, interpret that as you may,