Down Constitution Road

Words by
Caterina Ellis
| April 22, 2014

My family didn’t have one unified wish when we arrived as immigrants in Sydney, with its glaring sunshine and long shadows. We were each escaping from, running towards or reluctantly agreeing to something that we probably couldn’t name. Each of us was lost and we took comfort where we could.

Our first family home was a hysterical looking old wooden house sitting on top of a hill. The yard was huge and my father soon had it producing vegetables and fruit. He spent most of his free time in the yard, singing. I can still hear the slap of his thongs as he tended his beautiful crops. That’s where he was happiest, I guess. The yard was where he knew peace. He used to tie red strings around the thin branches of his olive trees, standing so large and proud in our front yard, to deflect bad vibes from jealous people, his own brother being the main offender.

My mother had indoor plants. She used to buy little plants at the supermarket which were sad looking and almost dead, negotiating a token price in her next to non-existent English. From these, she could grow healthy luscious leaves that eventually took over the living room. They were never fancy but I realise now just how glorious they were. It was my job to water them and over the years some grew taller than me. She was told she had green thumbs, which was so difficult for me to translate for her. I must have confused my mother terribly with my literal meanings.

I loved that house with it’s creaking floorboards and ghosts. It was very old and frail, but Mum’s plants, with their dark glossy large leaves filling every available space, made it seem so dynamic. The house was somehow made elegant while it sighed and groaned through it’s final days.

When my family moved to a new house, a developer bought our old one and levelled the block, building modern town houses which looked dated by the following year. The lemon tree in the yard, a jacaranda tree which still makes my heart hurt to think of, gnarly cacti, all of that and more; gone.

And my mothers indoor plants? She couldn’t save them. They all died too and she hasn’t kept a plant indoors in the twenty five years since.

I look at plants now, at leaves and petals, vegetables, fruits and branches….and they’re gifts from my past, from my family, from my heritage. They are like ready made artworks and the best I can do is paint pictures of them and think about the peace they lent my parents. My mother and father were good with plants in a way I find rather mysterious and wonderful. And now? That family, that house, that jacaranda tree exist only in my memory and a few out-of-focus photos.