13 Elizabeth Street was my Grandparents house, but, not their home – at least not during my life time. By the time I was born they had already separated and I never knew them live together. They did live in the house separately though – my Grandmother Sylvia lived there until she had a massive stroke, after that, my Grandfather Eric moved in.
When Eric became ill he moved in with my parents for his last couple of years, and that was the last time anyone stayed there.
The house has been empty now for over a decade during which time discussion about what to do with it has been an occasional topic of disagreement. Some attempts to do the place up have been made but not for some time – increasing council tax and utility costs have led to the decision to sell.
Meeting the estate agent at the house was the first time I had been in the place for years. I felt a compulsion to photograph what I saw – a mixture of dereliction and neglect and very little that would suggest this was ever a home. I kept thinking about how my Mam told me she had no emotional ties to the place while at the same time acknowledging that she could not face going there herself. Likewise, I tried to tell myself that the house meant nothing to me, but the memories that came back filled me with doubt. The photographs and text that make up ’13 Elizabeth Street’ is my attempt to make sense of this.
Text from the book:
13 Elizabeth Street was my Grandparent’s house and my Mam’s childhood home. It was also my home for my first 6 months while my parents saved for a place of their own.
Eric and Sylvia, my grandparents, separated before I was born so I never knew them as a couple. In fact, I cannot recall them saying half a dozen words to each other. Despite this, my childhood memory is of them being at my parents house most days – ignoring each other from opposite sides of the room. Their silence seemed normal and I never thought about it until a friend asked why they did not speak.
Sylvia lived at Elizabeth Street until she had a massive stroke – that day was the last time she was ever in the house. After hospital, she lived with my parents for a number of years before moving in with her partner. Up until the stroke she denied they were together although they clearly had been for years – I don’t know if the relationship was part of the reason the marriage broke down.
After Sylvia’s stroke, Eric moved back into Elizabeth Street. It was only a place to sleep really as most days were spent at my parents house. When his health failed he went to live with them and the house has been empty ever since.
After he died Sylvia mentioned the house on occasion and was told it was not practical for her to move back. This was true, she would not have managed the stairs, but, making sure her partner did not benefit was the real reason.
After Sylvia passed, grand plans about renovation and rental were discussed. Some work was done but enthusiasm for the project quickly waned and it was left semi-derelict. Eventually, the decision to sell was grudgingly agreed.
“I have no emotional ties to the place” my mam said which was clearly a lie as she could not bring herself to arrange the sale or face going back there. My Mam never spoke about what it was like for her growing up there – sometimes what is unsaid speaks loudest of all.
13 Elizabeth Street – my Grandparent’s house but not their home, nor has it been anybody’s for a very long time. A final task to deal with and chapter to close.