Brian Lavelle | Scottish writer & musician

Greenhall: a memory

Beneath a canopy of green, arches of foliage racing into the distance, a father runs after a boy on a bike. The moment is anxious: for the man, a fear of letting go; for the son, fear of falling, of gravity's pull towards pain and bruised and bloodied knees. This place, this retreat from the world at large: a haven where a house once stood. The road on which the bike flies is the old, meandering driveway, a perfect location to learn to cycle: in his mind it feels infinitely long, like the summer, like childhood itself. The father and son have both seen the brick and stone towers that pierce the trees, the supports for a rail bridge that has long since vanished, leaving only those pylons to watch over the parkland of the former estate.

The boy has often wondered where the big house once stood. No convenient site or open space seems to fit the picture in his mind of what it might have looked like 50 or 100 years ago. There are no remnants of it at all, he thinks, not even the ghost of a foundation to mark the absence. He doesn't know why it disappeared: his father has never told him; perhaps he'd never asked. It doesn't really matter. The disappearance left behind only some outbuildings in which, if he was lucky and his dad agreed, a man in 1960s overalls sold them choc ices from an antique chest freezer. He remembers that freezer as an integral part of the building, bursting up out of the floor like a living thing. He can still see the lurid paint of the interior walls too, hear the sound of the freezer's lid sliding open, sense that delicious gasp of cold air escaping.

All of this was decades ago, at least 45 years more or less. The memory seems so vivid but perhaps that's only the result of the twists in time that have reified his recollection across all these years. Whatever that place is or was, for him it represents an interconnection of happinesses in the form of the trees, the gentle slopes, the swings and roundabout and climbing frame, the river which runs along the bottom of the small glen at the foot of the estate. It's that first solo bike ride without stabilisers, without his dad holding on to the back as he pedals furiously, a moment of pallid expectation, even of exhilaration, of love and trust in their most intense forms.

The house and the bike are both gone now. He has never been back there, to Greenhall, even though he often thinks he should. The father is gone too. But they all still exist in memory—in memory almost as unbearable as it is unbreakable.

Originally written in March 2016 and presented here in revised form, passed through memory’s filters yet again.

#Greenhall Estate #Greenhall House #childhood #grief #memory