Sunday, 17 May 2009

That Ordinary House 10 Open House

After months of research, conversations, phone calls to the public trustee, mail-boxfuls of real estate agents glossy offerings we bit the bullet and made a decision.

We’d sell the house and we’d do it ourselves. Capelin and Capelin Real Estate Rookies - Come see us and if we like you, we might sell the family home to you for a song.

We put a notice in the Courier Mail advertising an open house for the following Sunday (1-3pm). With our extensive experience we chose to ignore the fact that everyone else was having their open days on the Saturday. We’ll have ours on a Sunday we decided. We figured that the market would be less crowded and we’d be able to spend the Saturday doing what we loved – sailing our 14 foot dingy on the Brisbane River at South Brisbane. It was February after all. No point in wasting the best month of the year.

Sunday reminded me of the drives we used to take as a family in the 1960s, when a great afternoon out was driving around the city visiting the Mater Prize Home and staring at brand new houses in suburbs we never knew existed. We were not inconspicuous in Dad’s latest toy, a brand new canary yellow Vdub.

Surely people still did that.

On the Sunday we agreed to meet at 12:00. We needed to put a sign on the fence and check that all the little repair jobs we’d made were still holding together. They were only minor. We weren’t going to try and fleece anyone. We didn’t want to be real real estate agents.

My brother was late. I was nervous. He had the sign, newly printed from his work computer. A3 and wrapped in a storm proof plastic sleeve. Inside in the kitchen I’d blutacked some information about the house to the feature wall – the flimsy masonite wall behind which lurked the bedroom my brother and I had shared for sixteen years. This wall had always elicited the liveliest debate between my parents when kitchen repainting time came around. Unfortunately my mother always won and had a terrible sense of colour. Today one of her worst design decisions stared at me and challenged my imagination as to how I was going to put a positive ‘real estate’ spin on a tiny cream kitchen with a dozen out of proportion orange door knobs which screamed HELLLLP! LOOK AT ME! ‘Original condition’, ‘renovate to your tast’ were the best I would be able to do.

Today the wall featured a display of maps and property details, recent sales in the area and a description of the house inviting offers around the $400 000 mark.

I’d opened all the blinds and windows. Light flooded into the living room where the Grundig stereo and minimalist record collection had held pride of place for twenty years. My parents had reaped the benefits of the post-war economic boom in terms of full employment and rising living conditions but they still lived as if they were in the thirties. There were no frivolous purchases in that house. The record collection was a symbol of that. It was all of ten records. About one purchase every two years. The Beatles and Tijuana Brass sat beside Paul Robertson and blues singer Juanita Hall, a little known but original Bloody Mary character from the musical South Pacific. My father’s fascination with ‘Bloody Mary” totally flummoxed me. What he saw in this raging version of Gimme A Pig Foot which he played at every opportunity I could never understand.

Gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beerSend me a gate I don't carefeel just like I wanna clownGive the piano player a drinkBecause he's bringing me downHe's got rhythm yeah, when he stomps his feet.

Despite my father’s love of opera and southern American 1930s blues he never owned more than one record in any genre.

Back in the kitchen I tried to relax. I became acutely aware of how small this room was. I could almost stretch out my arms and span the room from wall to wall in either direction. Apart from the orange orbs staring at me it was original. Every element was in the identical position they had been in 1949 when my parents moved in. The fridge, the predecessor of which was an ice chest, was tucked into a tiny space between the sink (original single stainless steel model) and the pantry.

The pantry I assessed, had been made by my father, judging by the old unpainted unsealed tongue and groove off cuts which constituted the flooring of each shelf. The latches were intact – cute sprung devices which clasped and unclasped the mechanism behind the door on pressing the metal button. The pantry was located in a tiny alcove which also housed the stand alone gas cooker and stove. This housed a relatively new appliance, being a late 1960s replacement for the wonderful cream enamel Kooka stove which would be an heirloom if it had survived.

Somehow we had eaten meals every night for over twenty years in this tiny room on this tiny table while mum had dished up Sunday roasts and a moderate range of traditional English meals. Sausage casserole being one of my favourites but which, with its sickly pale casseroled sausages, was true to my mother’s preference for practical over aesthetic. Later, the 3m by 3m room had accommodated families and grandchildren totalling up to 11 people. On those nights we ate in shifts.

My father’s Italian heritage combined with the austerity of the thirties was also a feature of this room. The sight of the snout of a pig’s head poking above the rim of a giant cooking pot was not uncommon and the ensuing stripping of the meat and the savouring of the delicacies which I rarely tried but which my father swore were food from heaven (tongue, cheek, eye) was part of the ritual. The stink was overwhelming, and for dad intoxicating, and the resulting brawn his favourite meat. He never ventured down the path of cured meats which his father, the failed farmer but brilliant smallgoods man, was renowned for. We had so smoking room, no curing room for fat Italian salamis. Sad how quickly these crafts get lost.

So there I was in the kitchen. My brother had secured the sign to the front fence and, with me dreaming at the back of the house, him keeping guard in the front sunroom, peering through the half opened louvres in a pose reminiscent of my mother, we waited.

We hadn’t baked a cake nor taken to baking a loaf of bread in the oven. We were going for the real homespun feel. No frills.


Tim said...

Congratulations on a well written and heartfelt piece! And also for your 30 seconds of ABC fame. There will certainly be a chance for another bite at the literary cherry, so keep it up.

Queen of the Tea Cosies said...

Just read this now. Steve. Steve. Steve. They just get better and better. All turning into a beautiful novella. Yes?