For continuity purposes you'll need to go back to June 2009 for episodes 11, 12, 13 of 'This Ordinary House' - the story of a simple abode and the tale of two sons selling the family home.
Standing there with my brother and two strangers felt odd. The room was empty. I was sure the four of us were seeing different things. There was no point in describing the once present furniture to the invaders. They were already filling it with new items, removing the Venetian blinds, repainting the walls in colours more a part of their world than that of my parents.
All I could see and smell was my childhood and the musky smell of my mother’s foundation. The secrets were safe. Safe with my mother and father, taken to the grave, converted to ashes. I could only guess.
And yet. I was still curious. I suspected that there were aspects of my family and my parents’ lives that I had no knowledge of. Conversations I had never been privy to. Tensions I had been protected from. Stories never shared.
To my friends our family was near perfect. A handsome caring and loyal husband married to a devoted wife. A family which was discrete but not secretive, open but not carelessly so, friendly without desperation. To my mother, especially, family was all important. For her family, there were no limits to her love. Friendships were, however, restrained. There was a reserve in her level of commitment; in the level of trust she invested in friends.
My father on the other hand was naturally gregarious. His great skill was his ability to listen. He drew people to him, both men and women. He was quiet, calm, focused and charming. A charming extroverted man married to a family focused and, at some level, shy woman. I suspected that here lay the germs of a secret life. Here lay the tension. My forensic tendencies scanned their fifty years of married life for clues.
My mother did not trust other women. What was that about I wondered? The mother of two boys, she was the lone woman in her household. Strangely, she had embraced the arrival of the young women her sons brought home as they grew older.. These young women were girls who had been educated through the prism of the feminism of the 60s and 70s. Family gatherings were joyful plain-sailing events until the topic of women’s rights was raised - as it was at every gathering through the 70s.
It was in these conversations that my mother’s inner life leaked through. She was of another generation, one which valued traditional values, where roles were clearly defined; where everyone knew their place; where women supported their husbands, no questions asked. The daughters in law to be, challenged her long held stable view of the world.
It was not that she resented their choices – to live in de facto relationships with her sons, to want to be mothers and have careers; she delighted in that. There was something deeper that she had never come to terms with. It gnawed at her.
She did not trust her own gender. There was reason for her to suspect other women’s motives. Her husband was unusually handsome; her husband was charming. And being my father’s son I recognised myself in him. My father was a flirt. But he was blameless. It was the women who were not to be trusted.
There were clues. There was the episode in my teenage years when the wife of one of my father’s work colleagues made certain claims about his relationship with her. This was the only time this secret part of their lives played out in my presence.
The scars on the cream enamel of the Kelvinator bore testament to this explosive episode.