Religion is an interesting proposition in our house. I am – using a recently discovered and the most apt description of all time – a “submarine Catholic“, surfacing only at Christmas and Easter. My dad was an “armchair Catholic“, arguing that God could hear him just as clearly from our house as from any Church and my mum, whose Italian accent was still thick despite all her years in Australia, would attend the local ‘Viet-manese’ Mass because she loved seeing all the children even though she couldn’t understand a word of the Service!
My American husband, Jewish by birth but agnostic by nature, believes that if there is a God, he is totally disgusted with what has become of His earthly paradise and has most certainly moved on to other projects. His father, although not Orthodox, was quite devout while his mother was more inclined to social activism, marching with Atlanta’s African-Americans in their struggle for equal rights.
So, where does that leave our son? Baptised Catholic, he went to a local Catholic Primary School before moving to an Anglican High School where he treated Christian Studies with the same resigned boredom reserved for any subject he wasn’t particularly thrilled with. And then about 3 years ago something happened. I sent him away to a school holiday Sailing Camp. He was unusually keen to get home when I picked him up but assuming he was just tired, we threw his gear in the car, buckled up and just as I was about to ask for the week’s review, he stopped the question from even leaving my lips by not just beginning to cry but by sobbing uncontrollably which left me absolutely stunned and a little frightened.
What I hadn’t realised is that the organisation that runs these camps is a Fundamental Christian group, one of whose camp leaders had informed my son, quite seriously, that his father was going to hell because he was Jewish – which I managed to ascertain after several repetitions of “I don’t want daddy to go to hell.” – sob – “I don’t want daddy to go to hell.” Shame on me for not doing my homework but who, in their wildest dreams (or nightmares), thinks someone is going to say that to an 11-year old on a bloody boating camp?
It took the entire trip of explaining why that couldn’t possibly be true, to calm him down but obviously it played on his mind because some time later he asked the question of someone at school and in another jaw-dropping response, was told that like cancer, no-one wants to hear the diagnosis but you have to accept that that’s the way it is. I’m sorry – I laughed. I just found the whole thing so ludicrous and fortunately, so did he because in the interim I had managed to reassure him that you could believe in a God without believing in ‘religion’. We are attempting to raise a compassionate, tolerant, broad-minded child and the Church’s attitude to homosexuality, birth control, pre-marital sex and female clergy has no place in the world-view we are trying to give him.
You could try and condense every directive from every religion and still not surpass the simple exhortation of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” and if this is the only ‘religious’ path my son chooses to travel, well that’s a guide that will never let him down.
THE 10 COMMANDMENTS FOR THE NON-RELIGIOUS.
1. Thou shalt not have any false idols like that bum-baring Kim Kardashian although I might make an exception for really talented musicians.
2. Thous shalt not make any graven images unless it’s of Grumpy Cat because he’s almost as awesome as Me.
3. Thou shalt not take my name in vain when Justin Bieber’s works just as well as in, “Justin f….king Beiber, my head hurts.”
4. Remember to keep the Sabbath Day hol(e)y. Eat Swiss cheese.
5. Honour thy gym membership even when you’re tired and/or hung over.
6. Thou shalt not kill. Applies to everybody. (Indonesia, are you listening?)
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. And don’t think not being “officially” married lets you off the hook.
8. Thou shalt not steal – unless it’s all those cute little toiletries in hotels. No bathrobes though.
9. Thou shalt not lie because you have to have a very good memory to stay out of trouble.
10. Thou shalt not want what others have unless it’s patience, kindness or maybe a winning Lotto ticket.
GO FORTH AND BE HAPPY.
Well, as one alcoholic said to the other, “It’s been a long time between drinks.” Since my last post in August, I’ve had lots of ideas and done absolutely nothing about them so I thought I had better redeem myself and get scribbling … so before I get to the point of the whole exercise, a little background information.
I was a bit of a smart chicky-babe at school and earned a scholarship to University with a view to becoming a teacher but after completing my Bachelor’s Degree, I just couldn’t do it. The thought of another year of lectures, study, research and assignments made me ill whereas the thought of travelling the world did not. Serious money needed raising because although I have always been quite happy to go camping and poop in the woods, the idea of schlepping all the way to Europe with my own bed sheet and having to share a hostel room with assorted party animals and snorers was not quite the dream trip I had in mind. So, after three years of tertiary education at one of the State’s finest universities, I put my degree to good use and went off to learn how to be a secretary – or PA (Personal Assistant) if one wants to be PC (politically correct) – which nobody was back then. A little over nine months later I could take shorthand at 120 words a minute (how useful would THAT have been during lectures…) and type…umm…very fast! And that, my dear readers, is how I ended up at Grace Bros and the reunion that sparked this post because not only was it my first job, it was where I fell truly, madly, deeply, deliriously, fiercely in love for the first time.
To protect the not-so-innocent and for the sake of this post, let’s just call him Max. If someone had asked me to describe the complete opposite of what I found physically attractive about a man, he would have been it – shortish, baldish and pretty ‘meh’ in the looks department but he would walk into my office and I would flush hot like a Bunsen burner turned too high. He was a Manager and I worked for his boss so we kept the relationship a secret until one of us left. People were dumbfounded when they found out. Hilarious really, considering we ‘worked back’ almost every night and the occasional Saturday morning so the chances of being caught not actually working, on my boss’s sofa, were reasonably high but it never happened. The secrecy drove me mad but I had to acknowledge the position he was in and his concern that telling our workmates might put our interactions under a scrutiny that neither of us would have welcomed. And my God – all the hedging and evading when people asked what you did over the weekend! “Ohh, you know, movies, seeing friends, usual stuff.” I had ‘vague’ down to an art form. Our subterfuge was so seamless, even when we both requested leave at the same time (to go to Queensland for Expo 88), no-one suspected anything. Honestly, I should have quite the secretarial scene then and there and become a spy. I would have put Mata Hari in the shade.
I’m ashamed to admit that I cannot remember the first time my husband told me he loved me (although I’m fairly certain it would have been over the phone as we were conducting a ‘geographically undesirable’ relationship between Australia and America when the ideas for Skype and FaceTime were, as my late Italian father would so colourfully explain, “ancora nelle palle di San Francesco”…. which delightfully translates to “still up in the balls of St Francis”.) but the scene of Max’s declaration is still as clear as the glorious Sydney summer day on which it was made. We had been lying by the pool at his mother’s apartment. I was earning a little extra pocket-money by waitressing at a friend’s restaurant so needed to leave late afternoon to get home to shower and change. With the car in reverse, driver’s window down, he said goodbye with the usual “Drive carefully.” followed by the not-usual, “I love you”. To my credit, I did not lose control of the car or squeal or ask him to repeat himself and I have absolutely no recollection of how I responded but I can tell you my heart just about burst and we were heart-stoppingly happy. Three years later it was over and not because the relationship faltered or we stopped loving each other – but that is a post for another time.
That was 25 years ago. Now, schedules permitting, we catch up at the annual Grace Bros reunion which is where I saw him last Friday night and it absolutely astounds me, as it has each time we have seen each other, how I can look into his eyes, listen to his voice…. and thank the gods of every nation on earth that we didn’t stay together. I believe it’s described in the vernacular as having “dodged a bullet”. And it’s not that he has changed – it’s just that now I see how incredibly unsuited we were for any long-term commitment. The things that drove me a little crazy when we were dating would have driven me completely demented over the long haul. Characteristics I glossed over when we were living apart would have turned into major obstacles when we were living together. Had we married, I seriously doubt it would have lasted. It does freak me out a little though to feel so dispassionate about this man that I loved so wholeheartedly, so intensely. How can you feel absolutely nothing but a little residual fondness for the person who was your first great, all-consuming love? Truth be told, part of me is a little sad that our encounters don’t have even the teensiest hint of the Mills and Boon about them – no catch of breath, no short, sharp pang of the heart. Not only are there no embers, the fire has been well and truly stomped on and covered over with several thousand kilos of earth.
Just goes to show that Soren Kierkegaard knew what he was talking about when he said “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
You know those quizzes for kids where they show them a row of pictures like three farm animals and a ladder and ask which is the odd one out? Well if you did an adult version consisting of various people preparing various foodstuffs, I would be the ladder. Every second blog seems to be about food and I sometimes feel as though I have a dirty little secret because I DON’T LIKE COOKING. If I were given the choice of never having to clean another bathroom or never having to make another dinner, I would have grabbed the Harpic and toilet brush before you’d even finished the question. It’s genetic. My mother would often say she would rather clean the house from top to bottom than cook every day – and she was Italian. The Italians are supposed to love their food – and she did – but like me, she would have liked it better if someone else had prepared it.
We have a fairly standard routine in our house when it comes to the week’s dinners – my husband barbeques a couple of nights, we have take-away one night, we might go out one night and I cook the rest of the time. I know…it’s not even a lot, right? But lately that’s all come undone because husband has been on a particular diet for medical reasons and the barbeque was in such perilous condition, the serviceman disconnected it from the gas because it was unsafe to use. Yeah, thanks for that. So I’ve had to cook almost every night. And it’s not like I have a demanding husband. If I really don’t feel like cooking, he’s quite happy to make himself some bacon and eggs or a salad with canned tuna. When my son was little, I used to run into a mother at the local park who had a toddler, a baby and a husband who expected three courses, on the table, at the same time, every night. See you in Divorce Court, honey. Better luck with the next one.
And it’s not that I can’t cook. I have a reasonable repertoire of dishes and am quite willing to try a new recipe. Despite the fact none of these whiz-bang contestants on Masterchef can manage an edible risotto (except one, who made it with quinoa and caused an earth tremor because all the Italian mammas watching fainted), mine is the teenager’s favourite dish and I always have to make enough so he has at least two days’ worth for after-school devouring. The simple fact is I just don’t enjoy it. I feel that same way about preparing a meal as most women feel about ironing – it’s something that has to be done so you put your head down and just get on with it. Except I love ironing. I light a scented candle, put on some daggy music and either become a contestant on X Factor or just let my mind drift where it pleases and at the end I have a pile of beautiful, crease-free clothes that give me a greater sense of satisfaction than any culinary achievement.
Sometimes my husband goes interstate or overseas for business and I lose total control – my son and I go out or get home delivery every night. It’s like the stove ceases to exist. The pantry doors rust shut. Only the fridge remains operational for milk, salad and chocolate. Salad, you say? Yes, because now it comes in a bag and all I have to do is open it – so I lied about the pantry because I need the olive oil and balsamic vinegar for the dressing. After years of banging on about healthy food and comparing his body to a car that only runs properly with the right fuel, yadda, yadda, yadda, the teenager still eats the occasional McDonalds or KFC but prefers Indian or Thai and is particularly partial to the Lobster Tails at Outback Steakhouse. He can cook his own pasta, whip up a San Choy Bow and pan-fry sweet potato till the cows come home so it’s not like it’s junk central while his father’s away. What it is though, is bliss for me and I don’t even feel guilty – not even one tiny, miniscule little pang.
This is not a paid endorsement but for anyone who feels the same, may I recommend Marion’s Kitchen Red Curry. She was a contestant on Masterchef a couple of years ago, I think and has brought out a line of Asian/Malaysian kits of which this is one. I tried the Green Curry but was not overly fussed whereas the Red Curry is a staple in my kitchen and there are always a couple of boxes in the pantry. The kit comprises red curry paste, coconut cream, fish sauce and curry herbs – basic and simple. All you need to do is provide whatever meat and/or vegetables you prefer, some water and 20 minutes later, voila, you have a really delicious, easy meal on the table. It’s available in all the supermarkets, usually in the International Foods section. I’m sure a lot of people would say it’s just as easy to make it from scratch but this way there is just the right amount for one meal and I don’t have bottles and jars of ingredients lying around that I have to use up before they go ‘bad’.
Lastly, for any Trekkies reading this, remember the Enterprise’s crew only had to stand in front of that tube, speak their request and their meal would materialise? Well never mind the bloody Thermomix – that’s an idea worth working on.
Hilary Clinton used it in a book title and every time someone brings it up, everyone else (and by “everyone else” I’m talking almost exclusively about women because men would never be having this type of conversation) becomes misty-eyed, nods their head wistfully, gazes into the distance and agrees whole-heartedly about how wonderful and ideal and lovely that indeed would be…. Are you guessing wage equality? World peace? Thin thighs? No, no and no – nothing quite so uncomplicated – it is the adage that “It takes a village to raise a child”. Well what a splendid idea and if you lived with your tribe in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea or the middle of the Amazon or built yourself a time machine and found yourself back in the 1950s, it would work like a charm. Why? Because you have the advantage of an ancient cultural mindset, that’s why. Everyone is doing the same thing, “on the same page”, with no inclination to think “outside the box” because everyone’s pretty bloody happy inside the box. There is no-one saying “Is that bone sterilised before you stick it through Junior’s nose?”, “You can’t take her spear-fishing today, the water’s too cold!”, “Put a GPS tracker on him before he cycles to the shops.”
Raising a child today is a completely different kettle of mash because now the village has to take into account so many parental ‘philosophies’, demands and variations you need an Excel Spreadsheet to keep track of them all, to say nothing of those parents who believe the village is comprised solely of village idiots who could never be entrusted with their offspring. We all do it – we all look at what other mothers or fathers are doing and form a passing judgement that they are crazy/ lazy/ too easy/ too strict/ food Nazis/ over-protective/ under-protective/ old-fashioned or common-sense-challenged but at the end of the day we’re all exhausted and just trying to raise a half-way decent human being. If ever there was a perfect example of “many paths up the mountain”, child-rearing is it.
The idea for this blog sprang from the fact that my girlfriend and I took our 14 year old sons to the musical, “Book of Mormon” whilst we were in New York on a school Drama trip last June. Although I didn’t scrutinise the audience too closely, I would say they were two of only a handful of teenagers there. For anyone unfamiliar with the show, it’s written by the creators of ‘South Park’ which tells you pretty much all you need to know. For anyone also unfamiliar with ‘South Park’, it’s an animated series which satirizes even the most taboo of subjects with surreal and sometimes very dark humour and language that would make your grandmother’s hair stand on end. “Book of Mormon”, set in Uganda, is the same, ranging over topics such as warlords, poverty, rape, genital mutilation and AIDS, set to fabulous music but with completely subversive and confronting lyrics – and language that would make your grandmother’s hair stand on end. We loved it and have been playing the soundtrack non-stop since we got back. One of my friends who loves the show equally told me she “was not game” to take her children – who are older than mine. Likewise the Canadian couple who sat next to me in the theatre and who have seen the show several times but have never taken their older children. I personally, don’t get it. The ‘bad’ language is only sporadic throughout the show and is nothing worse than they would have heard their first day on a High School playground. The issues come up frequently, sometimes daily, in today’s media so I’m not quite sure what these kids are being shielded from. But you know what – not my call.
I have raised my son to be extremely worldly and I can’t expect or blame other people for not doing the same. My husband loves to tell the story of my “birds and the bees” talk when our boy was about 9 or 10. Not content with the basics, we discussed sexually transmitted diseases, homosexuality (his godfather is gay) and unwanted pregnancies. He asked some incredibly thoughtful questions and came to the conclusion that “he was never having sex” and I SO look forward to reminding him of that when the time comes! (As if he’s going to tell me….) Part of my reasoning was that he goes to an all-boys school and I wanted to nip any misinformation or negative attitudes in the bud. I wanted to create an atmosphere in which no question was off-limits and which has led to some, let’s say ‘interesting’ conversations about issues like pornography and prostitution. Some boys wouldn’t give two hoots about any of this stuff and some parents would rather dig their own eyes out with a spoon than talk about sex in anything but the most basic terms and that’s why we have the phrase “each to his own”.
Some expert in something was recently quoted as saying mothers have lost confidence in their ability to mother because of all the conflicting advice they get from books, blogs, magazines, friends, family and social media. This echoes the comment made by Benjamin Spock (Dr not Mr), the one-time baby and child care guru who said, ““Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” Everyone and everything seems to have an opinion on how best to raise children. In my case, I didn’t read anything and did stuff that would make some people faint. When he was young, my son was allowed to have ice-cream for breakfast. As his beloved grandfather would say, in his heavy Italian accent, “Why not? It’s dairy.” Chocolate was freely available. My mum was a screamer and I inherited the gene. There were days it was a miracle he didn’t bleed from the ears but even as a toddler, he would just look at me until it was over and continue on with his life. When he was in Kindergarten, one of the mothers commented how upset her son would get when the teacher yelled and all I could do was laugh because for my son, it would have been water off a duck’s back – in fact he would have felt like he was home. Who knew my ranting and raving was perfect preparation for the future!?
He started accumulating an arsenal of weapons very early in the piece. We had plastic swords of varying lengths, knives, nunchucks (Mutant Ninja Turtles), cap guns, machine guns, light sabers and Nerf Guns up the wazoo. His friends LOVED coming for playdates! No-one ever said anything but I’m sure some tut-tutting and quiet disapproval was going on somewhere. Not that I cared but I was at least heartened by the Director of his Daycare Centre who told me that boys, irrespective of whether they were allowed toy weapons at home, would pick up anything and turn it into a gun – sticks, spades, basically anything they could hold and point! And if nothing else was available, fingers worked just as well.
He was playing MA15 games on his consoles and computer when he was 12 and would delight in telling me how many kills he had made. At the same time, he was playing Pokémon and Mario Bros and whatever else happened to be the rage at the time. He has seen movies that some would consider wildly inappropriate for his age – and yet what do I have? A child who is unfailingly polite; who is empathetic, compassionate and kind; who loves animals; who is not overweight or cavity-ridden and has the most wonderfully droll sense of humour. He has been hugged, kissed and told he was loved every day of his life. He has never needed much discipline but he is very clear on what behaviour is expected of him. The way we raise our children can be influenced by so many factors: how we, ourselves, were raised; religion, group pressure, our partner’s attitudes, where we live. our careers and to a greater extent than we possibly imagined – our child’s nature.
We all have the same delusion – that we think we know what we’ll be like as parents which is why I love this quote from the esteemed John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (thank you again Google):
“Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now, I have six children and no theories.”
I was trying to think of an analogy for the past weekend – because, let’s be honest – who doesn’t like a good analogy when they can get one? So here it is: last Saturday and Sunday were like the pages of an open book…offering up different scenes and characters but belonging to one story.
One of my most endearing characteristics and the one which probably drives my organized and regimented husband most demented is that I leave everything until the last minute – paying bills, booking holidays, grocery shopping for guests…. I have been the same way since….ummm…. forever. “Thriving under pressure” I think they call it. 3,000 word essays at university were started three days before they were due with pages and pages and pages of photocopying highlighted and annotated and extended library stays fuelled only by pumpkin seeds and water. I remember one particularly splendid effort of writing final footnotes whilst on the train to deliver an English essay by its deadline. Good times, good times.
Anyway, the point is, my girlfriend and her two kids (Well, I use the term loosely. Her son is 16 and her daughter, 20) were coming for lunch on Saturday to celebrate her birthday and I did the shopping that morning, getting home just in time to unload the groceries and wipe down the toilet – as any good hostess would! When they arrived, both the dog and I showered them with kisses, I shoved a glass of champagne into her hand, saw her son off with a soft drink to another room to play video games with my boy and told her daughter to help herself to whatever she wanted from the fridge while I made the salad.
I think she managed a few sips of bubbly and a chat with my husband before she and her daughter were up at the bench peeling prawns. That’s right – she got to celebrate her birthday by cleaning the poop chutes from a kilo and a half of prawns. Kinda makes you wanna come over, doesn’t it?
But that’s just what happens with family. We may not be related but I have known her for 42 years – exactly three quarters of my life. And as wonderful as that is, I don’t like to dwell on it too much as that would mean acknowledging how much and how quickly time has passed since we met that first year of High School! Our trail then winds its way through 21sts, jobs, boyfriends, weddings, holidays, disappointments, dramas and every conceivable kind of celebration. I was at the party where she met her husband. Truth be told, I quite fancied him myself but he fancied her so that was that. I held her children as babies, listened as her marriage ended.
Any friendship is a gift but a friendship that spans close to a lifetime is a blessing. It’s a shared connection with your youth, your past; a history that is never far from the surface. To the outside world, the numbers and experience tell a different story but we still see in each other the teenage school girls that we were and sometimes still behave accordingly! It’s not about living in the past but about having someone that lived that past with you – the smoking, the all-nighters, the adventures, the bad relationships, the good relationships, the parties, the risks …. all the stuff you do when you’re young and think you’re invincible. So when our kids roll their eyes because they think we are the most boring and clueless people in the universe – EVER – we just look at each other, roll our eyes and think, “If only they knew…”.
“The best mirror is an old friend” – George Herbert
PS: Are you asking, “What happened to Sunday?” It’s like a soap opera – coming in the next episode!
I’m the happiest person you’ll ever meet. Really. Sunshine and light. The funny one. The eternal optimist (married, ironically, to the world’s greatest ‘don’t-trust-anyone-ist’). My girlfriend says my opinion on people is rubbish because I like everybody. That’s not strictly true but I do tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately, the disappointments who have crossed my path have been few and far between. Unfortunately, incompetents and the inconsiderate are another matter entirely. Especially on the road.
As we enjoyed four days of almost empty roads because half of Sydney cleared out for the Easter break, allow me to enumerate the many and wondrous ways you can improve not only my, but your fellow travellers’, experience on our narrow and congested highways and byways.
1. Re-acquaint yourself with your blinkers. (Indicators, for any American readers.) One ‘blink’ when you’re already three quarters of the way into my lane, two inches from my bumper bar doesn’t cut it. They are supposed to indicate intention. I would have let you in, honest. Now I’m just peeved.
b. If you want to turn right (left, in America), how about you let me know more than two seconds before you stop or before I pull up behind you at traffic lights. When this happens, I guarantee you, that person you see gripping the steering wheel and mouthing something is not singing along to the radio. If expletives could be magically transformed into electricity, this scenario would power the entire east coast.
c. Like pimples on an adolescent’s face, roundabouts appear seemingly overnight in this city. Since they are placed at intersections and since I am not clairvoyant, I don’t actually know which way it is you intend to go. Left? Right? Straight ahead? Could a blinking light on the outside of the car give me a clue? While we’re here, I may as well point out something else. The rule is to give way to traffic already in the roundabout and proceed when there is a gap in said traffic. It does not say stop and give way to the car on your right which is still in the next suburb, just heading your way. (Hello? Husband?)
2. Clearway times are not flexible. Surprisingly, if the sign says 9.00am, the expectation of The Roads and Traffic Authority, along with your fellow drivers, is that you NOT PARK there before that time. There is no small print on the sign that says “Oh, by all means, if you’re running late for your train, feel free to park here at 8.50.” You will also not find an exception made for those people desperate for their skinny lattes who “should feel free to just stop for a few minutes to duck in and get their coffees.” at 8.45. Same applies at the other end of the day when clearways commence at 3.30 to ease that great seething mass of automobilia known as the school pick-up. Clearways are our only pitiful defense against peak hour because we get two miserable lanes instead of one. So please stop stuffing it up.
3. Learn how to park. Honestly, if there is a line of cars waiting (not by choice) to see whether your eighth attempt at reversing into that Westfields car space is successful, may I humbly suggest you just bite the bullet, find another one and go in nose first. Truly, there’s no shame in it.
b. Marked car spaces. Those lines that delineate car spaces are not a suggestion. You are supposed to park in between them – not over them, not across them. You are lucky we live in a reasonably civilised society otherwise people would stab your tyres.
c. Even in the suburbs, on-street parking can sometimes be difficult to find so when you see someone who has taken up two car spaces, your first instinct is to buy a crane, lift their car and drop it into the nearest body of water. Well, maybe not but you get my drift. Unless you are driving a limousine or a Hummer, there is no excuse.
4. Green means Go. Most people understand that when the light turns green you put your foot on the accelerator and move…..forward…preferably, immediately. There is nothing more frustrating than watching from bumper to bumper traffic as the first car in line waits for a particular shade of green then those following leave a couple of car lengths before deciding to head off. This eventuates in a grand total of four or five cars getting through the lights before they again turn red. When this happens at Right Turn Arrows which only last a millisecond at the best of times, it makes the rest of us want to curse your first-born children.
I’m sure everyone has their own pet peeve to add to the list. A mass exercise in grumpiness! Even with the Easter weekend over, school holidays are still bringing some relief on our roads so enjoy while you can. The chaos will be back soon enough.
Let me be clear – I am NOT a hoarder! But I do keep a lot of ‘stuff’ for sentimental reasons which is probably what a lot of us do when we’re single and by “a lot of us”, I am generally talking about women. “I’m always going to keep this coaster/postcard/pressed flower.”, said no man ever. Movie tickets, concert tickets, love letters, scraps of paper, programmes – I’ve kept versions of them all. When you are young and life is being lived at full speed, every experience becomes a memory to be collected….to be then shoved away in boxes or drawers that are ultimately found by our children after we die, cleaning out our houses and muttering, “What is all this crap?”
Well my dear son, this ‘crap’ is evidence of a rather fabulously spent youth. I recently found a paper bag full of concert and theatre ticket stubs, some faded and almost illegible but it was quite a stash. Let’s not dwell on the fact I couldn’t remember half of them but that’s not the point is it? The point is, I went to them all, undoubtedly having a blast at some and probably hating others. They represented time shared with friends, dinners, drinks, dancing, suppers…and all the things I now loathe – loud music, crowds and not enough sleep! God I had a good time. As a measure of how change comes to us all, I recently took my husband to a concert where the support act was not only deafening, their bass notes reverberated through the seats to such a degree I thought my spine was going to shatter. We ended up waiting outside until they mercifully stopped playing!
At the risk of blowing my own horn, I was rather popular in my younger years and had the cards, flowers and gifts to prove it. One of my admirers wrote an essay about me in Year 12, another a song. Who would be mad enough to just toss these wonderful works of passion aside? Well certainly not me. I have them in an album with assorted and sundry notes, birthday cards and Lord knows what else because I haven’t looked at it in centuries – but I know it’s there. I’m not actually sure where ‘there’ is but I know I still have it because it would NEVER have crossed my mind to get rid of it no matter how many clean-outs I would have had. In fact, it came with me to America, where I lived for 8 years and then returned with me, I’m fairly certain, in one of the boxes that had remained unopened all that time. If I told my husband I have kept all the cards he gave me while we were courting, his first reaction would be, “You’re kidding – what for?”. What for, indeed. Because they are hard copies of that first flush of love, of secrets shared, of the growing certainty that this relationship was heading down a path not before travelled. They are time capsules made out of paper and ink.
My first serious boyfriend (at age 18) gave me a small bundle as I was about to board a plane to join my parents on holiday in Italy. There were six small, exquisite cards – one for each month we had been together and each with a simple, sweet message. Even after 38 years, my heart constricts just a little when I think of them. Grand gestures have their place but it is the small, unexpected intimacies that follow us from our past to our future.
And yet I find that collecting keepsakes, like many things in life, becomes somewhat of a paradox because we think all these mementos will keep the memories alive when, more often than not, they remind us of just how much we have forgotten.