Having read Angela Barton's poignant post about grief, I began thinking about the odd things human beings do/say/keep in the name of preserving a memory. Mine borders on theft, I'm afraid, but I'm certain the council changed the locks when they renovated the house...
Anyway, my maternal grandmother lived in a small but character-laden house on a council estate. I say character-laden because it reflected... I don't know what it reflected actually but it was certainly a special house. The kitchen was a hideous (I have to admit it) shade of yellow; the sideboard in the living room had a cupboard full of odds and ends (when we cleared it out we found a decade old bottle of medicine); the carpet had a square gap located conveniently underneath the sofa; the wallpaper on the far wall didn't quite dip below the long television stand; there was ant powder in the corners; the furniture in my bedroom came from the neighbour across the street who married a nice man and lied about her debts... Once you open the door to one memory a host of others follow. It's incredible how responsive the mind is to a theme tune or a smell or an overheard phrase.
My grandmother was the giving type. She used to buy me presents all the time, even though some of them were a little eccentric. She brought me a doll back from her first-foreign holiday (which my sister promptly smashed - not out of spite, I hasten to add); she bought me CDs from my favourite seller on the market (Eartha Kitt, Rose Marie); she brought me back a keyring with my name on it from her last holiday in Blackpool. I clipped that onto my keys the day she gave it to me and only reluctantly took it off when it became likely it would disintegrate if I didn't. I still have it. However, there is one thing of hers I still carry around with me to this day: her house key.
It's a clunky thing, one of the long types that opens a 'proper' door to my way of thinking. It's in remarkable condition (unlike her own in the end) because she had it cut especially for me when I was in college. I remember the occasion that prompted it: she was taken out for a meal by one of her sisters and I arrived after college, as I did every day. I sat in the garden reading Antony and Cleopatra for my English Literature class while the neighbour came out periodically to check I didn't need to use their facilities. I really did need a key considering the amount of time I spent around there.
When she moved from her home of fifty years to sheltered accommodation (then it was a short time to the home and then...) I didn't think about the key. I was too caught-up doing what needed to be done and stripping my grandmother's house of its life. I remember standing in the almost-empty house and wanting to cry at how easily the past had been erased. No plates on the wall, no brass figures on the mantlepiece, no vase with fake petals in the bottom that was in need of a clean. It was more than just empty, it was dead. When I finally realised that I had the house key on my keyring it was too late to give it back. But, on those days I do believe in some kind of fate, I think it was meant to be that way. Now I have a permanent reminder of my grandmother on my person at all times. More than that, though, I have a permanent record of how much she trusted me and how much we meant to each other. That's pretty special for a key.
Me and my grandmother at Bournemouth in 2005: