The bulldozer went into the house and reduced it to nothing more than a pile of bricks and a cloud of dust in minutes. Astrid stood back not wanting to get smothered in that dust. She longed to cry, but what for? A house is what it becomes when people are living in it, once empty it is no longer a shelter for those who had inhabited it. That house had been Astrid's grandmother Edith's, but she had been dead for many years. With the passage of time the house had become a ruin and had stopped resembling the home of a family, Astrid's family. Astrid was now at the same age as when her grandmother had died, and left a huge gap in Astrid's life for a long time. The bulldozer drove off and a lorry scooped up the bricks and the dust. Astrid moved away and went back to her car, which she had parked quite a way out of reach of the dust. The sky became pale blue again as the cloud of dust disappeared. Once inside her car, Astrid switched on the radio and without a second glance out of the window drove off home.
"Astrid, wash your hands before lunch. I don't want to see dirty hands at the dining-table," Edith, Astrid's grandmother, told her day after day. The young child was only four years old, but she knew what the rules were when she stayed with her grandparents, Edith and Herbert, her husband. They had gone to live in the house after they had been married a few years. Their children had been born in it. During the school holidays Astrid went to stay with them, giving her parents a rest from the inquisitive child. In the evenings her grandmother told Astrid stories of when she was young. It seems that Edith had been a rather naughty girl, from the tales she told Astrid.
Edith, one night, went with her mother, Laura, to her aunt's house. The reason was twofold, the first one being that Edith was a naughty girl and as her mother was the only one she obeyed, Laura decided it was better to take Edith with her. The second reason was that Laura's sister was on the point of giving birth to her first child. As Laura had had eight children, it was logical that her sister should call for her presence.
Edith had been put in
the future nursery to sleep, but the child was far too curious to
close her eyes. There was a small light in the room and when her
eyes had got used to the gloom, Edith made out the shape of a
cradle in the far corner. Edith got out of bed and tiptoed over
to the cradle. She touched it and the baby's bed began to sway.
That looked like fun. Edith got into the cradle and began
swinging in it. She made it go faster and faster till it went
over, making a crashing noise. She ran back to her bed and got
inside and under the covers before her mother got into the room.
Edith closed her eyes tight and hid herself as best she
"It can't have been Edith, she's fast asleep. The cradle must have fallen by itself," Laura said.
Edith heard another voice but not what it said. She decided to stay in bed for the rest of the night.
The trouble with Edith was that she was always getting into mischief. Like the time her mother placed a large jar of sweets on the mantelpiece above the fire. Edith watched the placing of the jar, taking it all in. Her mother had done that as a way of preventing her children from reaching up to get any. When her mother had gone out of the dining-room, Edith had got a chair and climbed up to reach the jar of sweets. Unfortunately, her legs were too short to reach it and she fell onto the fire and burnt her arm. Edith put the chair back in its place and then hid under the table hoping the burn would be better before her mother saw it. Edith sat there in the dark nursing her damaged arm and trying hard not to cry. It seemed ages for the small child that she had been there with her painful arm before her mother lifted up the velvet table cover and discovered her daughter sitting there in agony. Laura dragged her out, and said, "That'll teach you not to be so disobedient in future. I notice it had to be you, and not one of your brothers or sisters. Now, let me have a look at it." She took Edith's arm and examined it, and then put a pomade on it and wrapped it in a fine cotton bandage.
After hearing the story
of Edith and the sweet jar, Astrid asked her, "Have you got a
scar from the burn?"
Edith rolled up her sleeve and showed Astrid her arm, "Look! No scar. It all happened a long time ago. I certainly learnt my lesson that day, I can tell you. I never went near the sweet jar again."
On dry days during the
holidays, Astrid was taken for walks in parks, the seaside, and
to visit other relatives. However entertaining they were in
Astrid's eyes, they were not as good as her grandmother. One of
her great-aunts had to be taken everywhere in a bath chair, which
was made of basket-work. This enabled the elderly lady to recline
rather than sit, as in a modern wheel-chair.
One dry but rather miserable day Astrid, her grandmother and her great-aunt went for a walk along the sea front. The promenade had a gentle slope and Astrid asked for, and got, permission to push the bath chair. The little girl, relishing the slope, started running as fast as her legs would carry her. The great-aunt began screaming and Astrid kept on running. The bath chair gathered momentum, but Grandmother caught them up and took over the pushing of the great-aunt. Later that night, Grandmother confessed to Astrid that she had enjoyed it as much as Astrid had. Of course the great-aunt was not of the same opinion.
Year in and year out,
Astrid's holidays were spent in her grandmother's company. The
house was dark and mysterious, but to Astrid it was more magical
One day, when her grandmother was no longer the baby of the family, her mother asked her to take the two tiniest ones out for a walk. Edith and her bigger sister, Fanny, pushed the pram with the toddlers inside as they went for a walk to the top of a hill. After puffing and panting their way up, the two sisters sat down on the grass to rest. Edith let go of the pram and it began moving down the hill. The toddlers in the pram were crying and screaming. Edith and Fanny caught up with the pram and wheeled it home. The elder of the two toddlers, on being safe, said to their mother, "Edith let go of the pram."
Edith and Fanny stared at their little brother and said that he was the most miserable child that existed. After that, they did all they could to avoid him. Astrid asked her grandmother what had happened to the miserable toddler. Edith replied, "He was always miserable, always complaining."
There was an attic in the old house that held all kinds of good things to play with: an old clarinet that had been Astrid's uncle Tom's when he was a boy, strange old-fashioned clothes that smelt of mothballs wrapped up in layers of paper, very large hats adorned with giant flowers. For Astrid, all these things formed part of her childhood at her grandmother's. There was a full-length mirror in the attic and Astrid was able to see herself in the old clothes when she dressed up. She discovered as she grew older that the clothes and hats that had once seemed so big, gradually began to fit her, as if made for her. The best thing, of course, were the shoes, as they had buttons and buckles on them, and some had long toecaps and some were squared off. In her fantasies, Astrid imagined what it had been like when her grandmother and her great-aunts had been young women. One day she had even tried to ride a bicycle wearing one of those old dresses and found it too difficult with the skirt wrapping itself round her legs, so that she soon gave it up and put the bicycle back and ran upstairs to change into her own clothes. How had they ever managed to practice any sports? But they had done so, nevertheless.
In the house next door
to the one that Edith and her brothers and sisters had lived in
as small children, there had been a rather crusty, elderly,
ex-army officer. The neighbour had a wonderful garden, large and
well set out. In the centre of the emerald green lawn there was
an ornamental pond with lilies floating on the surface. The rest
of the garden was a show place of flowering bushes, and at the
far end fruit trees. No matter the time of the year there was
always something in bloom. Their mother was continually telling
Edith and the other children not to venture near that garden,
unfortunately it proved to be more exiting simply because it was
One day, when the neighbour was nowhere to be seen, Edith and the smaller ones climbed over the fence and entered the paradise next door. They made for the pond and jumped and splashed around in the water and stood on the lilies. When it was so wrecked that it was of no further interest, they ran down to the fruit trees and climbed up to get apples and pears. There were more pieces of fruit on the ground than on the trees by the time they had finished and carried home some of their loot.
The very next day the elderly gentleman arrived back home and discovered his precious garden was more like a battle scene. He went straight round to launch such a diatribe on the mother that she never forgot it.
It was not long after that, that the family with all their offspring moved as far away as possible from where they had always lived. There was only one person who was happy about the fiendish family fleeing.
From that day on, Edith's life seemed to have fallen apart, until she got married to Herbert. This was a significant moment in her life for at last she would be her own mistress in her own home.
Astrid drove on to her home while ruminating over her grandmother's past and the destruction of the house. What would be put in its place: a block of flats, a shopping centre? It didn't matter, Grandmother was not alive and didn't need the house any more. Astrid felt as if an enormous part of her life had gone forever. You can't look back, only forward.
Astrid's home was two
hours away from Grandmother's disappeared house. It was late in
the afternoon when she finally entered the driveway to her own
home. Her husband opened the front door. "What took you so
"I must have driven slower than I thought. I've been thinking about of some of the stories my grandmother used to tell me, about when she was a child, and I was wondering what memories our grandchildren would have of me."