More than a place, home is the people in it.
My hometown is a very long way from where I live. In fact, it’s hard to imagine living much further away.
I live in leafy, pretty Twickenham – home of English rugby, riverside walks, one very lovely street (Vape shop aside), many charity shops and good transport links to London. My hometown is the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia – a place you definitely appreciate more as a visitor (in my opinion) with beautiful beaches, warm winters, one very good shopping centre, and excellent smashed avo on toast. “That looks like a nice place to live,” I commented on the setting of my kids current favourite TV show “H2O” … “It’s the Gold Coast, mummy,” they said, rolling their eyes. (I went to Surfers Paradise State School, that says it all really).
A month ago, I found myself unexpectedly back there. When I say unexpectedly, I mean I went to work in London on an ordinary Thursday before an uneventful half term (I had a spring in my step that day as I had a fun night out to look forward to). The next morning I had packed up the family, was in a taxi to Heathrow and on a midday flight to Australia. Twenty-five fairly horrifying hours later, we were at the Gold Coast.
There is only one reason that anyone finds their plans changing so quickly and dramatically, and it is never a good one. My lovely Dad, who had turned 82 only three days before, and who had sounded so happy and full of life when we spoke to him on his birthday, had suffered a major stroke. By 2.00am on Friday morning, I knew that he would not make it, and he passed away while I was frantically packing.
My childhood homes were always full of art and colour. Even the gardens were works of art.
My Dad, although a lawyer by profession, was an incredible artist from an early age. He famously drew pictures all over his law exams part way through his degree and left to pursue his dream of being an artist, before succumbing to expectation and parental pressure and returning to finish his degree. But despite a very successful professional career, he was also an artist his whole life.
As children, my three brothers and I would sit at his feet as he carved amazing faces into apples. We sat in his art studio with him drawing nude life models. As a teenager, I was allowed to paint my entire bedroom with wall to wall murals including the ceiling, despite totally destroying the carpet. You could barely see the walls in our house for all the drawings, tile cuts and paintings he did and collected.
One of my favourites comes with the best story. He was once at a local fair and spotted a large canvas on which a year group of tiny school children had painted their self-portraits. He loved it so much, he asked if he could buy it, and later attended the school to give each child in the painting $1 in payment. It is now in a huge frame and has pride of place in my parents' living room.
He was a very sentimental man. He used to drive my brothers and I to high school which was in the hinterland a little way away from our house. As we got close to school we used to round a bushy corner. Just after you rounded the corner an old wooden sign nailed to a tree with the name of a large property over a big red arrow came into view. We’d compete with each other to be the first to shout out the name on the sign. “Jabiru!!!” we would scream. My graduation present on finishing high school was that very sign. He went to the property and asked for it, framed it and gave it to me. It’s on the wall in our house in Twickenham, and its red arrow now points to a large wooden aboriginal carving of Jabiru, another one of his presents to me.
Saying goodbye to such a Dad has not been easy. He was, and is, in so many respects, the gauge I measure other people by. I know in my heart that I married a good and kind man because I grew up with one. I know I love art and colour and have passed that on to my kids because of him. I became a lawyer largely because he instilled in me a strong sense of justice. But like him, I am not wholly suited to it (an understatement) and am always looking for another way to satisfy myself creatively.
I want there to be a happy ending to this story, but it is currently too soon, and too raw. I am back in Twickenham, catching the train, going to work, doing school collections, putting one foot in front of the other (drinking a lot of wine), but feeling a bit dead inside. I have discovered that some people (often ones you don’t know that well) are incredibly kind, especially those with their own stories of loss to tell. Through them, I have realised that really, I am one of the lucky ones. He died when I was 45, saw me through massive changes in my life, had my husband ask him (via telephone from Argentina!) for his permission to ask me to marry him, walked me down the aisle, adored our kids who adored him back, and taught them to draw and paint on our visits.
I can’t go home to him at the Gold Coast anymore. He won’t be watering plants in the garden or painting in his art studio. He won’t be calling me from his library, (though heartbreakingly I still have the voicemails on my phone including one a week before he died “I’m sitting in the library and I just wanted to hear your voice. No need to call me back”). But he will be in his paintings (some of which are hung on our walls in Twickenham), my kids' art, my happy memories, the stories I have to tell, the choices I have made so far, and the choices I am yet to make (let them be good ones!)
Most of all though, I know he is in the love I have for my own little family, the love they give me in return, and the home we have made for ourselves. If there is to be a happy ending, for now, let it be the realisation that I am not so far from home after all.
By Dana Jamieson (Dana & The Red Shoes)