I have a rather tenuous connection to my roots, but continuity of place is vital to me and my sense of self. As a military brat, I lived in dozens of houses, but one building alone represents 'home'. In fact, I only stayed there for a few weeks when I was too young to recall it, but it's become a sacred repository of family memories.
It is a tiny stone cottage, part of the workers' ensemble of buildings on a large country estate in southern Scotland. Before the Great War, my paternal grandfather was head coachman to the Laird of this estate. In exchange for his services, he received his accommodation, new livery each year and a very small wage to bring up his three sons. At some stage in the early 1920's, the two-bedroomed cottage housed my grandpa, granny, their three sons, a middle-aged female relative and great-granny Elizabeth, (who seems to have lived in a set-in bed in the kitchen for what remained of her life). Elizabeth is pictured above, in a clean pinny, her best bonnet and with a bunch of violets in her hand.
The doorstep became the chosen site for what few family photographs there are of this time and the next picture is of my grandpa and granny, again in the early 1920's posing in the doorway. Some effort seems to have been made to smarten up for the occasion - a good cap, a string of pearls at the neck.
A few years later, they are all arranged for a family portrait, sitting on the step. (My dad is the lad on the left at his father's elbow.) This seems to have been a rather more impromptu affair, no time to brush anyone's tousled locks, wash a face or two or find the baby's socks and shoes.
A generation on, and it was my turn to take to the step for a photo-shoot, probably early 1952. The door looks like it needs a coat of paint, but the step still seems to be a favourite sunny spot for family and pets alike. I'm not sure how to explain-away my rather pneumatic appearance. Granny seems to be feeding me titbits (first wiped on her apron, I see) and no doubt a chubby baby was thought of as a good thing in post-war, rationed Britain. Well, that's my theory!
So that is the humble house where my family memories are deposited. Or, I should say, was the house. Last year I took my dad, sister and neice up to Scotland to visit some old haunts. Although we knew from previous visits that the buildings (which hadn't been occupied since my grandpa moved out in about 1960) were beginning to fall into disrepair, we were shocked to see that the cottages had been completely demolished, razed to the ground. All that remained were the carriage house, stables and kennels, the roofs collapsed and mother nature reclaiming her territory.
Dad and sis
Dad and sis
Although the tale of the doorstep seems to have a sad ending, in a way I am glad that it no longer exists. It has done its job, the generations who posed there for photos are almost vanished too and although it may seem selfish, I am content that it hasn't survived to become part of someone else's story.