Sunday, 20 February 2011

Is this my house?

Notes from Scone --- 6 AM, one grey February morning.

She’s sitting up in bed; more anxious than usual. You can see it in her hollow eyes. Though she’s barely able to articulate the words, she asks, “Is this my house?” She asked the same question several times the previous evening. “Where are my keys?” was a common question when she was at hospital, whenever we’d take her out for a drive or for a hair cut. Questions that I'm unable to answer rationally, in a way that would satisfy her.

Well, might she ask. Decades ago she lost her house; at least twice. The first house wasn’t sold in order for her to move. It was taken from her by force. Wójcza was the centre of a large farming estate in the Kielce region of Poland, where she and her siblings were born. During WWII the Germans burned it to the ground. The second house was Ruszcza, a mansion outside Krakow where she and my father settled three months before the war broke out. They barely had enough time to complete one harvest. She spent the war years there while her husband was locked up in a POW camp. A 19 year old girl, just married, she had to run the estate, deal with farm production, personnel issues plus provide a home for refugees, for dislocated family and even the occasional Jew. This was the war occupation, as in “Schindler’s List”.

When the war was over, she emptied the house,sending flatbeds of furniture to family homes in Krakow. She turned the key in the lock for the last time and walked away. Her husband, recently freed from the stalag, was waiting for her to join him in Germany.

A new home waited for them in Scotland, a one bedroom cottage provided by the local laird. No plumbing or electricity; no rental agreement. Just a handshake; an understanding that they would be allowed to live there. The agreement could be rescinded if the laird decided he needed the space for someone else. They were exiles, separated from family and home, and that’s how they felt. My father also lost his home at least twice. The first being a forest estate on the banks of the Prypiat, now in Bielorus. The Red Army ransacked the house then set fire to it. His second home was leveled along with all of Warsaw in 1945.

They bought the present home in Scone in the mid 1970s. But even owning the house outright doesn’t bring security. Not when you are burdened by such a past. The questions go on: “Is this my house?” Amber reassures her that it is but the answer doesn’t end the questions. Mama has lived there for years; she has lived in many other houses but I wonder whether her question, following her recent brushes with death, doesn’t contain another meaning. That at the end we are gypsies in temporary lodgings, and we’ll all be moving on.


  1. Bless her heart. I suppose there is a good bit of truth in the saying that this world is not our home. We are just visiting.

  2. Being dislocated and banished from one's home is like living between many worlds. I can't understand why so many human beings are so terribly cruel.

    1. It's what happens in war. Thankfully my generation didn't have to live through it.