Memoir: Stealing a Piece of the Past

I pulled up the last inch of zip on my hood and looked all around me, peering deep into the wet night to make sure nobody was watching. I had to move fast. In the dark, I snuck behind the metal fence and picked a path through the puddles and debris on the broken driveway. I looked up and saw the last few remaining walls of my childhood home, battered and empty as if derelict or bombed, looming over the skip and the sledgehammers and all the other paraphernalia of the demolition squad.

Hurry up, I was trespassing now, I had to move fast. I headed towards the huge pile of discarded bricks in the front garden, where I learned how to cartwheel and my Mum’s roses once grew. We found a wild orchid there many years ago, and my Dad left a circle of grass around it when he mowed the lawn. I picked up my first brick, wet and crumby, much heavier than I expected. It was a good one, still whole and not too damaged. Then I chose two more and put them together – were these from my bedroom, I wondered, or maybe the bathroom or lounge? Here was one with a yellow edge, so it must have come from the outhouse – ha!

After another furtive glance up and down to check I was still alone, I slipped back around the metal fence and on to the street. I shrank further into my hood, the rain and tears mixing together to wet my face and I walked home victorious, cradling the four bricks against my chest. One for me, one each for my brother and sister, and one for my parents who were now safely tucked up in their bungalow just around the corner.

Eventually I painted my brick orange and blue and wrapped it in silver ribbons, before bullet-proofing it with several coats of varnish. The house I grew up in, where my parents lived for 45 years, has now been replaced by a beautiful new home that belongs to somebody else — and all I have left is a photo album, a muddle of memories, and a bookend that’s shaped like a brick.