There are places from my childhood that when I return to visit, I feel like a little kid again. One of those places is definitely my Grandma’s house. It sits upon a hill, surrounded by woods and filled with memories.
As soon as I walk in, I feel like I’m 6 years old. The smell of firewood, tea bags, and old books mixed with the breeze from open windows, bringing the scent of grass, leaves and the life of the river just over the road.
It brings back countless memories of family dinners, celebrations, and bee stings which could only be soothed by Grandma’s oatmeal cookies.
Now, the house is sitting mostly empty. We nearly lost my Grandma two years ago, but with true British grit and stubbornness, she fought her way through. We’re so lucky to still have her cheeky smiles and endless love for her children, grandchildren and my daughter Elizabeth, her first great grandchild. Sadly, due to health concerns, especially the onset of memory loss and dementia, she’s unable to return to the home she has lived in for nearly 50 years.
Her resolve however remains and she’s not ready to let the place go. Respecting her wishes, the family has been cleaning and clearing, getting it ready for a new family. While Grandma cannot be there, hopefully they’ll take care of the home that’s meant so much to her while making memories dear to them.
It’s strange to walk through and see her things scattered everywhere. To see much of the furniture gone, the photos and paintings removed from the walls, boxes filled with odds and ends. I can’t help but feel sad, and a little lost, while walking through. I imagine this must be what’s happening in my Grandma’s mind; feeling uncomfortable in the familiar, disorganized, rearranged and disconnected, yet still feeling like home.
Before the new tenants move in, I wanted to photograph my daughter exploring the space I loved so much growing up. In her short life, she’s only had the chance to visit my Grandma there once. I want to share some of my memories with her.
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While we were there, joined by my dad, Aunt and cousins, I had my camera by my side. I knew this would likely be my last chance to document what the home felt like to me, to our family, before it was emptied out and filled with memories for someone else.
I wanted to document what it feels like to be in the house. The warmth that fills the rooms, the echoes of memories made by four generations of our family and the personality of my beautiful Grandma, who made the house a home for everyone she loves. I wanted to capture some of the things that all four generations have treasured in that house, like a good cuppa tea in the kitchen, foraging for fresh berries along the edges of the clearing and of course, horseplay with the family dog.
While inside, I searched for pockets of light and exposed for the highlights. I played with shadows and didn’t touch any of the clutter. I wanted to document the house just as it was. I felt the occasion called for a darker, moody feel inside. A mood that spoke of memory, the passing of time. I found a little bit of melancholy and disarray while still keeping the tones rich and warm as a reflection of the happier memories we had all shared there.
We ventured outside and my strategy changed a bit. The inside of the house may have changed quite a bit with the clear out, however the outside and property are very much the same as I remember from my childhood:
Long grasses, beautiful old trees, wind blowing through the branches, family dogs running and catching, kids gathering wild berries and eating them right off of the vine, seeking adventure in the woods, a few rocks and sticks to hide in pockets as treasure.
For these memories I embraced more of the light, less of the shadow, let the colours pop and the happy shine through.
I will miss this place.
The smell of Grandma’s cooking in the kitchen, especially her roasted potatoes! The gathering of family for special reasons or no reason at all. Memories of my Grandfather trying to teach me French or reciting Shakespeare. I’ll miss the loud conversations and laughter over the dinner table while the family teased each other with dry wit and not a little sarcasm. Many cups of tea and freshly baked cookies.
I will miss this place. But I’m so happy I was given the chance to document it: to not miss out on the time to reminisce before the house is emptied of the memories my Grandma had to leave behind. I’m grateful for the chance to freeze those memories and feelings. I’m glad I can share them with my family, my beautiful baby girl and now, with you.
Writing + photography contributed by Jessica Hachey.
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