My aunt’s house was filled with the cheap and personally precious things that she had collected over her life span of more than 80 years. The little wooden house was almost new when she and her husband bought it as newlyweds in the early 1940s. This was the home of my father’s sister and it was my favourite of all the places Mum and Dad dragged me to when they visited the adults.
We children were free to roam and look, but not touch. My brother always went outside to chop into the log of wood with the blunt axe. My youngest sister sat on Mum’s knee and my other sister and I roamed separate areas of the house, looking but generally not touching.
Normally I began my roaming at the front door, which was framed by green and clear stained glass window panels and cast a pretty light onto my skin when I stood closely. I wasn’t a confident child and was usually scared of wandering far from the safety of Mum’s leg; but standing there in the soft, green light with the murmur of adult voices wafting up from the kitchen at the other end of the house felt reassuring and I moved through the house freely. Floorboards creaked under my young feet and the doors groaned like a haunted house when I tentatively pushed them open far enough to walk through. These were not scary, they were just the normal sounds of Aunty’s old house.
The bedroom on the left had a double bed with a slippery bedspread and I ran my fingers over the shiny fabric many times. Portraits of Aunty’s grandparents had been painted in the late 1800s and sat on the floor, leaning against the wall behind the door. Aunty said they had been rescued from a relative’s outhouse a few years earlier, in the early 1970s.
At the other end of that same wall stood a beautiful dressing table with three adjustable mirror panels showing me exactly what I looked like from every angle. I found myself standing, walking, jumping and making all sorts of silly poses, just to see how I looked from the front, side and behind all at once. My feet stepped lightly and my giggles were whispered because it seemed wrong to make a loud noise in this strange and interesting place where I was trusted to wander and look, but not touch.
Most noticeable on the dressing table was a large glass holding my uncle’s false teeth, which seemed scary because I didn’t know that teeth could come out of a mouth – mine were stuck solid. Leaning forward with my face close to the glass, I noticed they looked quite realistic and wondered how they got out of his mouth. Near the scary teeth was a cream coloured hair brush with soft bristles and a matching comb. The back of the hair brush had a painted green scene of trees and a river, with a stiff, clear, plastic cover that dented inwards when pushed with my curious finger.
Next on the dressing table was a pretty little glass bottle with curious attachments. This bottle held my attention for a very long time because it had a bulbous, rubber squeezy thing like the horn on my bicycle, which just begged me to squeeze it. A tight, cotton, crocheted cover protected the user’s thumb and fingers from touching the rubber bulb when giving it a squeeze. Dangling from the rubber bulb were wonderful long, soft, silky tassels, which always fell into perfect place, like impossibly straight hair always falls straight down into place. That squeezy, ticklish, lush looking bulb drew me in like a magnet and I confess that I touched it every time I thought the coast was clear. The air that came out of the bottle smelled sweet and I quickly figured out it was for perfume.
Just past the bedroom, hanging on the narrow hallway wall, was my Aunt’s wedding photograph. This was the size of an A4 page and had a simple, fine, white, wooden frame and six or seven people in the bridal party – my aunties, uncle, grandfather and the groom. The beauty of this item was in the photograph so there was no need for an ornate frame. Everyone in the bridal party looked like movie stars with full length satin gowns that draped onto the floor around their feet like gorgeous curtains. They each had hairstyles like I’d only ever seen on TV and each of my aunties held a small bouquet with thick ribbon dangling underneath – and the bride holding a larger one. The men were the groom, my Aunt’s older brother, her father and a man nobody now remembers. The men all wore well-made suits with broad pant legs and a flower in the lapels. The old people that I knew them as looked nothing like the movie stars in the photo and I wondered how I’d look when I grew old and wrinkly. I wondered many things and this scene became my fantasy wedding for my entire childhood.
Throughout the house I saw glass bowls and crystal vases on table tops, and on the mantle piece sat a Swiss clock made of glass – so you could see the mechanisms clicking and whirring inside. I watched large chunks of time pass staring into that little clock. I hard every tick during the long pauses Aunty made as she spoke. It was a comforting rhythm in a comforting house.
Off the lounge room was a spare sitting room, which led to the toilet and bathroom. There, in the sitting room, sat a strange machine that couldn’t be switched on for fear of being discovered for breaking the look don’t touch rule. Stepping up onto the small platform, I slipped under the thick leather strap so that it circled from the machine to around and behind my body, resting on my hips. I leaned back into the strap, I sat on it and hung from the machine like a swing and I turned so that I leaned forward with it up under my arms so that I didn’t fall over. Spinning back around to face the mechanism, my thumb rested beside the large ON/OFF switch and I wondered what it would do if that switch was flicked on but couldn’t bring myself to find out.
Through that room was the toilet, which was another curiosity. A windowless room, the toilet had a black, baker lite switch that had a piece missing from the top of the switch housing. I reached up and flicked the switch but my little finger went into the hole and I received a shock that put me onto my bottom. Next time I went to Aunty’s house there was some sticky tape over the hole and it remained like that for the rest of my childhood.
Everything was old fashioned in Aunty’s kitchen. Resting along the top of the hot tap and faucet was a wire contraption with a chunk of hard, yellow Lux soap inside. I asked Aunty if I could have a look and she nodded. Squeezing the wire handles together made the small box at the end of the handles open up like a crocodile mouth. Later, Aunty filled the sink and rapidly swished the wire basket through the water, making soapy bubbles appear. When the bubbles died down she swished the basket into the water again. This is how she washed the dishes and I’m pretty sure she had been using that wire thing since she moved into the house, twenty years before I was even born.
This house felt like it was full of love, it had character, and held a life time of memories that comes with age. Aunty’s wedding photo sat silently, watching her children born and grow in that house. The green light that shone through the stained glass at the front door welcomed every visitor into her hallway. Aunty’s hair had been brushed with that cream coloured brush with the plastic back and forest scene every day of her adult life. Uncle’s wake was held in that living room with the sound of the ticking glass clock echoing through the room. Her grandchildren, nieces and nephews all loved her reassuring ways and her calm and logical thought patterns – which matched her reassuring, calm and logical home.