Saying goodbye to your childhood home and 30 years of memories

Ellen and her parents on her wedding day at the family home

Ellen and her parents on her wedding day at the family home - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children

I always thought that baby birds migrated with their families but, actually, they leave as soon as they are strong enough to fly.

It’s a dangerous time. They don’t know what to do or where to go, and must fend for themselves in unfamiliar surroundings ? avoiding predators, navigating the unknown and coping with whatever the wild wants to throw at them.

But the most surprising thing about it all is that, despite all the hardship they face, they never return to the empty nest where their parents raised them.

Now, humans are nowhere near as resilient.

Indeed, the house where I grew up was never empty for long.

My parents used to joke that they never had a moment to themselves – that none of us had ever really left.

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Well, we have now. All of us, in fact.

Because this week we said goodbye to Number 31 and its 30 years of memories and helped pack up and move mum and dad out of the city and to a new life in Suffolk.

I’m thrilled, of course.

The hardest part for me when we made the move from the capital to the countryside three years ago was leaving them behind.

I am really looking forward to having them close by again. But it has been emotional – to say the least – bidding farewell to a house that I “officially” left 16 years ago and yet was the address I still identified as home.

Even when my brother, sister and I went to university, off travelling and moved to our own apartments, our bedrooms remained intact.

Our cupboards still sheltered items we had neither the room nor the need for ? Lego bricks, jigsaw puzzles, dolls’ houses, favourite teenage comics, books, old tapedecks and cassettes of music compilations from the ’80s.

And under our beds were dusty old art folders, school textbooks and neatly rolled up posters of Jon Bon Jovi and Take That – remnants of our youth carefully kept and preserved.

We had to go and sort it all out. Pore over the memories, sift out what we wanted to keep and bin the rest.

That was when I came across my diaries, which, if you read last week’s column, you will know unearthed secrets I thought would never see light of day again.

But what has happened in the past is important to treasure. It’s part of what shapes us, creates us, gives us a sense of belonging and an essence of where we came from.

And the vast majority of my childhood was spent within the four walls of one structure – which is now home to someone new.

The fact that it sold quickly, to a young chap who wants to raise kids of his own there, affirms my belief that it was a wonderful family house.

But strangely, and not without irony, it’s a house that is too large and, at the same time, one we have outgrown.

The packing took weeks. With every clearout, every box full, the house echoed with hollowness.

But before the removal men arrived to empty it for good, we had one last supper there as a family.

One last chance to look around, breathe in the sweet, unexplainable scent that belonged uniquely to that property and talk about the things we will miss and remember.

It will always be the place where I first rode a bicycle. Where Father Christmas knocked the climbing frame over and left mud on the living room carpet. Where we had set places to sit at the dining table to avoid arguments.

It was where we celebrated our accomplishments and shared our disappointments.

It was the battleground for my teenage years; where my friends and I held tequila parties when my parents were away; where a huge, white garden marquee hosted my 21st; where the letterbox delivered news that I had won a place at university.

I ached for the familiar sounds and smells of the place when I was away at college.

I returned there after every relationship breakdown, if I was ill, tired, or needed the comfort of my own bed.

No matter where we were in the world, it remained the hub – the focal point for us all.

I was there when I went into labour with my daughter, and my granny, now no longer with us, held my hand while the rest of my family gathered to help me pant and breathe my way through the pain.

I was there the morning of my wedding, sharing a glass of champagne with my father in the kitchen, both of us welling up with emotion.

In fact, that house has featured in all the major moments and milestones of my life – as a safety net, a lifeline, the most consistent thing in my life.

But, funnily enough, I was ready to let go.

Of course, gathering the fragments of one’s life to begin anew is no easy task. It’s an exercise in finality.

But my grieving hasn’t lasted very long – and I don’t think it will for the rest of my family, either.

Because home is far more than a house, isn’t it?

Home is where those you love gather ? and now we gather somewhere new and even more beautiful.

And now, conveniently for me, it is just around the corner.

Please find me on Twitter @Ellen WiddupRead more from Ellen here

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