IT’S the Saturday after Easter. I step through the gateway of my childhood home as I have done hundreds of times over almost half a century. The house stands, as it always has, sturdy and welcoming.

Red sandstone, grey slates, blue velvet curtains in a bay window. Inside: the kettle on, my mother sitting, her head in a book, but glancing up from time to time in expectation of my arrival.

She will jump when she sees me, more slowly now her hip has gone, and make her way to the door. It’s a ritual that has played out ever since I left, with her blessing, at 17. It means: “No matter where you go, or what you do, there will always be a place for you here.”

Except, soon there won’t. Because today, for the first time, next to the old stone wall, there is a sign reading SOLD. Four letters - white block capitals on a purple background. I can see it as I get out of the car  - an estate agent’s proclamation of victory. I cannot quite make sense of it. “Pics or it isn’t happening,” as the kids used to say. I take a photograph to prove it’s real.

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The air of unreality comes from everything happening so quickly. My mum’s husband died, quite suddenly, in January, just as her mobility was going into freefall. It was obvious moving to a smaller flat was the sensible course of action, and so we have spent the months since his funeral sifting and shifting; troweling through the sediment for scraps of treasure; deciding what can stay and what must go.

In my itinerant days - when I averaged two moves a year - I could be dismissive about the sentiment people attach to houses. “Home is not bricks and mortar,” I would say. “So long as those you care about are with you, you will always be ‘home’.” I don’t think that now.  Now, I believe houses are living organisms. They have pores through which they absorb our joy and sorrow. They are shadow lanterns which collect our memories then cast them flickering on the walls. Look: here is the garden in which you played; here is the bedroom in which you fought; here is where you fell in love; here is where he broke your heart: here is the table around which you laughed and the bathroom floor on which you cried; here is the spot you stood looking out: for the ambulance, the wedding car, the hearse; the removal van. 

When the four of us - my dad, my mum, my brother and me - first set eyes on it, our house was a shell, its structure sound but its interior dilapidated. My brother and I, aged eight and nine, watched as our dad - a DIY magician - transformed it into a ‘70s pleasure palace with clashing colours and patterns - big flowers on the carpets, big flowers on the walls -  and, in the kitchen, slatted saloon doors through which we’d burst like gun-toting cowboys.

He worked on it for 18 months, then only lived in it for six. Sometimes when people die, those who are left behind turn their bedrooms into mini-shrines, their clothes still in their closet, their books on the shelves. In our case, the house itself was the shrine, a monument to all his toil and decor choices; and so, for a while, not a table was moved nor a carpet replaced. But no house should be a mausoleum. Our lives and tastes moved on; the saloon doors were taken down, the walls and floors grew monotone. Years later, my mum remarried and she and her new husband redecorated, reflecting a new era and a new union.

Still, there’s enough left of the original to trigger the odd flashback. Last week, while looking through old photographs, we recalled how the first time I brought my future husband home, we arrived bearing a budgie - a present for my grandmother’s birthday. The budgie had been placed in a small box for the journey down from Glasgow, and when it was released it went crazy, battering itself against the front windows. I was hysterical both about the plight of the bird, and the prospect of this first, nerve-wracking introduction being overshadowed by an avian bloodbath. Finally, it settled on top of the pelmet. We had to fetch step-ladders and lift it down. Same window, same pelmet, although my grandmother and the budgie are long gone.

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That’s been the best of it: looking through things and remembering. What a privilege, really, to have the opportunity to help clear your mother’s house while she is still alive. To be able to reminisce together. To be able to ask: “Who on earth is this?” and to be told: “You know X - the one who was married to the chimney sweep - well, that’s their second son who grew up to be a liontamer.” I’m making it up now, but you get the gist. This is a chance to spend time with my mum, but also to thread all the anecdotes I have heard over the course of a lifetime into one rich tapestry; to construct our family tree in my head (and hopefully, one day, to put it on paper).

Oh, the things she has unearthed in battered old folders and at the bottom of rarely-opened drawers. My dad’s aliens’ Certificate of Registration - issued on January 14, 1963, for the princely sum of 5s 0d; a great uncle’s letter to his sister (my grandmother) from a POW camp in northern Italy - “The weather here is glorious, but a little too hot at times. It makes the insects and vermin very active”; and - most moving of all - a letter from Eugenie Wavell, wife of Sir Archibald, the Viceroy of India, to my great-grandmother after the death of her son in Burma in 1944. Eugenie had met him when he had lunched at the Officers’ Leave Camp shortly before he was killed in action. “My son missed going in with his beloved Battalion owing to jungle Typhus and was subsequently attached to another regiment instead, also serving with the Chindits,” she wrote. “He lost a hand in recent fighting…His Excellency and I realise how lucky we are to have got him back at all. You write so bravely but as a mother I realise how irreparable your loss is.” Different times, different values; but grief spans all generations.

We have found funny things, too. Cards my brother and I made, poems we wrote, a note from my dad and his friend asking my mum and her friend on a double date. It makes me smile, but I also am aware of a newfound responsibility: to properly absorb all this information; to become its joint custodian.

Every time I visit now, I try to memorise the cupboards and the cornicing. Which floorboards creak. The giant red vase on the twist of the stairs. The slanted ceilings that so enchanted me as a child. The sloped roof below my bedroom window that I used to climb out onto on summer nights (before a passer-by spotted me, informed on me and put a stop to it). But maybe it’s unnecessary. The people who move in will never know the shed was once the headquarters of The Three (Ayrshire) Investigators, but the house won’t forget; it will harbour our imprint ghosts.

As for my mum, with any luck she’ll soon be in a flat, with neighbours as nice as the ones she left behind, and a view of the sea. This flat will become our new Mother Ship; the place we gather for family reunions. She will share the space, unwittingly, with other people’s  ghosts; but it won’t be long before she is making fresh imprints of her own.