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Erica Munro: The memories I cherish are what made our family house a home

Writer Erica Munro celebrates her 21st birthday in her former family home
Writer Erica Munro celebrates her 21st birthday in her former family home

It was the tea towel that got me.

After a few months of admin, it’s finally time to put the old family home on the market. Cue weeks of sorting, cleaning, distributing and donating before we are finally ready to welcome the agent to take the photographs.

Erica Munro

I’ve managed really well until now because, joy of joys, my parents are still to the fore and thriving in an absolutely lovely new home in the village which lies less than a mile away from me. They’ve made their new house so comfortable that it’s felt, to me, like an ideal and almost seamless transition from one location to another.

After all, the old house is too big and too isolated, the garden too huge, the stresses and strains of grass-cutting, pruning and weeding just too onerous for people of retirement age to be bothering with. Let’s be sensible and move on.

We’ve been almost comically well mannered

With the luxury of time on our hands, we have slowly emptied the old house of its treasures, large and small. Items have been shared out with almost comical good manners, a pantomime of “I’ll take it if nobody else wants it, but if anybody else does then that’s great because I don’t truly need it…” to the extent that there’s been a danger of precious things going unclaimed due to an excess of decorum. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so heartwarmingly nice.

Downsizing is one of life’s natural progressions, but that doesn’t make it any less emotional (Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Anyway, up until the tea towel, the entire process has been an exercise in logistics for me, the lucky sibling who gets to see her parents every day. My role has been to help get everything sorted so that the house can be sold. One by one, items have been looked out, dusted down, boxed and shifted; off to the new house, to nooks in our own homes, to others, or to charity shops.

I didn’t pause to wonder why I wasn’t more emotional because it all felt so right – the downsizing of a family home being one of life’s natural progressions.

What on earth am I supposed to do with 35 years of memories which are currently inconveniently crowding my cerebral cortex? Where can I put them? There isn’t space in my loft

Now, with the photographer booked, it’s time to do the final beautification of the place. Those small, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen touches like stashing the Fairy Liquid bottle under the sink, yanking out picture hooks, cleaning the windows and generally lending a photogenic aesthetic to the “space”, as rooms seem to be called these days, showing the place off to its full potential without misleading potential buyers, because we’d all hate to do that.

The house was my safe haven – but only because of the love inside it

I’m just about to close the door on the spotless kitchen – job done – when I notice the tea towel. A faded RNLI souvenir, still on its hook beside the cooker. I pick it up, stuff it in my bag and head for the door. And that’s when it hits me. Finally, I feel the onset of the tears which others in my family have shed but which had so far eluded me.

I realise, with dismay, that if there’s nothing to dry dishes with, then there will be no more cups of tea here. No more family lunches, no more mugs of coffee round the kitchen table, no more glasses of wine in the evening. Those props which have served our daily lives don’t belong here any more. Which means we don’t belong here any more. The home has become a house.

To apply a stiff upper lip to leaving feels like a surly injustice to what is ostensibly just a house but, in reality, is the very heart of my family

I’ve resisted crying up until now because, honestly, what is there to cry about? Everything is fine with our world and nobody has died. Having a house to sell at all is a privilege, I know this.

But once I’ve processed that and blown my nose, what on earth am I supposed to do with 35 years of memories which are currently inconveniently crowding my cerebral cortex? Where can I put them? There isn’t space in my loft for that bounty of good times.

This house was my safe haven during torrid years of raising small babies; the place where scones happened. My 21st birthday party, my wedding day, my sister’s epic annual family Easter parties, raucous Hogmanay gatherings – all originated here. To apply a stiff upper lip to the leaving of all that feels like a surly injustice to what is ostensibly just a house but, in reality, is the very heart of my family.

I fling the tea towel in the wash when I get home. It is, after all, just a threadbare prop in an epic tale.

Tomorrow I’ll be fine, positioning flowers for the photographer and hoping the sun shines for the photos.


Erica Munro is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter and freelance editor

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