If I mapped the course of my life through the trees which stood along the wayside, how would it read? I imagine the rings of a forested tree stump, and these words written around the years of growth to which they apply.
The house in which I grew up was called Windon Birches, after the copse of silver-barked trees which shimmered in the sunshine and the breeze at the foot of the garden. It’s a name for a house that makes me laugh now, like Dun Roamin or Cirrhosis-by-the-Sea. But I don’t really remember the sound of wind through those trees. Just the parched grass and cracked earth of the hot, still summer of 1976. Those were days of innocence, before the family fell, symbolised by the magnolia that stood over the front drive, by which my brother and I were photographed when the tree was in bloom. Yet even in this time of innocence, we are already divided, set on opposing paths – I am in blue, he is in red. Of course, the differences or the beauty of blooms meant little to me then; but I do remember peeling fragments of bark from the birches, a tactile fascination as great as the tentative, exploratory lifting of a scab from elbow or knee.
The house has been knocked down now, and the magnolia and birches felled, to make way for a redevelopment of houses with what must be treeless, postage stamp gardens. The part of Windon Birches that my grandfather built – a garage and the bedroom above it which his two grandsons shared – is gone. So too the granny annexe, which housed the wife from whom he was separated and then divorced, unusually for the time following the Second World War. What constituted the breakdown I have never really established, so proper and private a person was my grandfather. I do know that my grandmother tried to rescue a man who needed rescuing, from mental illness, from alcohol. And I remember her feeding me and my brother banana and sugar sandwiches.
Increasingly I have come to understand that I am seeded with the genes of all four of my grandparents. To greater and lesser extents, their natures run on in me.
Photo by Jerzy Opioła via Wikimedia Commons.