13 February 2013
When asked about my home, I immediately begin by describing the characteristics of my three crazy siblings, my mom’s homemade meals, and my dad’s dry sense of humor (Just to name a few). I rarely ever put emphasis on the structural elements of my house, but rather describe my home: the internal essence of a house.
In Patricia Grace’s novel Potiki, Grace highlights the difference between a house and a home. She does this by relating the people to the place. Grace writes: “There was in the meeting-house a warmth. It was the warmth that wood has, but it was also the warmth of the people gathered”(88). In this quotation Grace asserts the idea that beyond the sense of warmth within the tangible structure of the house, the people that are gathered there are what makes the house a home. Grace then takes it a step further making a spiritual connection to previous generations that have gathered on the land, she writes: “It was the warmth of the past gatherings, and of people that had come and gone, and who gathered now in the memory”(88). In this moment, Grace offers her audience with the chance to honor the people of the past. Simultaneously, Grace suggests that these people should also be remembered in the present-- they are eternally current in the mind: in memories.
Fifteen years ago my Mom’s “dream” house was put on the market. Lovingly, my Dad purchased the house and a few short months later my family moved in. Although this house was only two minutes away from our previous house, my Mom claimed to have “fallen in love” with the house years before. When we asked her what was so special about the house, she replied, “the built-in armoire in the kitchen”. My siblings and I could not help but laugh—what could possibly be so special about a piece of built-in furniture? Upon seeing the house for the first time, we all rushed anxiously to the kitchen, curious to see the armoire that motivated our family’s move.
Then there was total silence. It was beautiful. There stood the armoire that my mother had fallen in love with years ago, and in that moment, we all understood why she felt so strongly for it. Original to our house built in 1890, the armoire stood ceiling to floor—old and wooden, it was magnificent! More specifically it was the overwhelming sense of character that stood out to me. For over a hundred years, this piece of furniture stayed near perfectly intact despite the alterations to the exterior and frame of the house. Amidst constant change, the armoire remained unchanged- it remained authentic. For me, the armoire is a tangible manifestation of history, of the past. Just as Grace explains in Potiki, I am able to feel the warmth of the past as I share the armoire with the generations that were in possession of it before me. Through a connection of spirituality, the past is able to exist in the present through memories.
Similar to the eternal nature of memories, is the art of storytelling. Within Potiki, Grace makes a fascinating connection between the nature of the land and the art of oral storytelling. As land gets passed on from generation to generation, it has the tendency to undergo alteration. This comes with any change in time or new ownership. This tendency mirrors that of storytelling; stories are altered in oral tradition when being passed down between generations. Although an oral story is an intangible transfer or exchange, the importance lies in the essence of the exchange: one must gain something to lose something. The previous generation is lost, but the new generation gains the experience of the past. The essence of a story always remains as the core of the tale, Roimata states, even though “the stories had changed” (103), the essence of the people always remains engrained in the land.