As a child, I never lived in a house longer than five years. Sometimes, we only moved suburbs, other times states, and when I was seven we moved halfway across the world to Adelaide, where we continued to move house.
My maternal grandparents and their house at 153 Canal Street in Mobile, Alabama, were a source of constancy, however. The house originally belonged to my great-grandmother, who lived there at one time with her sister, several grown children, their spouses and children. By the time I arrived, nearly fifty years ago, only my Nana and Papa lived there.
The heart of the house was the kitchen. Nana was always in there. It was where she cooked, ate, read the paper, watched TV, listened to her police radio, drank coffee and entertained family and friends. And entertain she did. My childhood memories are full of great-aunts and great-uncles sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee, telling bawdy jokes and gossiping. They were fun, funny and completely irreverent.
My favourite part of the house was not inside, however. I spent long hours on the large front porch swinging on the swing as I watched the world go by, reading or chatting with anyone who came out to join me. I think it was Papa’s favourite place, too. He used to rise early and sit out there, with the dog at his feet, watching the sun come up.
My Nana and Papa died within eight months of each other and my mother sold 153 Canal Street. That was over twenty years ago. The house has still been known all these years, however, as “Aunt Mil’s”. There was a family reunion 18 months ago and a carload of relatives drove past to see where several of the descendants of “Johnny Murrill” (my great-grandfather) had lived.
I had fantasised about, one day, driving past with my children during a reunion and showing the house to them. That really is just a fantasy now because I woke this morning to learn that 153 Canal Street had burnt down on Saturday evening.
Of course, the house would have just been an old house to them. They’ve never met any of my long-dead great-aunts and great-uncles. They can’t hear their laughter and voices as I still can. Neither do they know how it felt to be held tight cheek to cheek with Nana and feel her wrinkles against my cheek as she said, “Good morning, sugar.”
Ultimately, it was just a house. I’m still deeply saddened, though, that it no longer exists but overwhelmingly grateful to have such sweet and lasting memories of time spent in it.