Thursday, August 18, 2011

End of an era

Visiting my family in Polynesia was a mixed blessing. At 36 I'm old enough to feel the passage of time, but young enough to be shocked by the permanence of change. Seems silly but there's a peculiar sinking sensation to realizing that some things now live only in your memory. It makes them intangible and fragile somehow.

My family has a house. This house lives in my memory as huge and packed with people. It was built my grandfather in the '50s. It's a converted warehouse. Concrete floors, giant kitchen, tons of little rooms packed in the back. There are no screens on the front windows and the geckos and moths would come in with impunity. The shower used to be standalone wooden structures in the backyard. There were giant oil drums lined with plastic and you would use a pitcher to dump water over yourself. The temperature in Palau runs to the mid-80s with 100% humidity so outdoor showers felt amazing. There was an outdoor house, basically a raised sitting platform with a woven roof right behind the proper house.

There were always people in the house. My grandmother wasn't mobile so aunts, uncles and cousins always visited her. There would be uncles and older cousins in the outdoor house. Aunts in the backyard and kitchen. Younger cousins cavorting in the giant front room. Every family member has lived in one of the rooms. It was a popular stopover while you were going to school, starting out at your first job, or just between apartments.

We visited the family house during our trip. I wanted to show The Hub where my favorite memories of childhood took place and introduce Baby Flails-a-lot to the house. It lived in memory as so vivid and full of life. Intellectually I didn't expect it to be the exact same, but time robbed me of even the semblance of memory. It was damn near deserted. Only my aunt and cousin lives there now. They both work with multiple jobs and family obligations. Everyone else, all my myriad of cousins, are grown and moved out. My grandmother passed on years ago. The house is like this giant memory shell.

I was saddened and stunned at first. I kept telling The Hub stories of how it used to be. I took Baby Flails-a-lot through every room, trying to imprint it on her tiny baby retinas. She won't have the memories I do, but at least I got to visit it one last time. My cousin said they might demolish the house and build something else, a house with apartments or a hotel maybe. Whatever it becomes, I'll make sure Baby Flails-a-lot gets to create her own indelible memories there.

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