Australian Gothic

By now I’ve got most of my mum’s remaining things in order. The front room is full of things I’m trying to encourage people to take home with them. There’s a bunch of prints, a couple of rugs, some of mum’s plentiful decorator items, a couple of good single bed doonas, some kitchen stuff, and so on. The rest of the houI remember when we were is near empty, but for the things that are either scheduled to be collected, or thrown out altogether, once I leave. There are boxes too, largely of my things, and piles of like stuff which will end up with me as well, if for no other reason than I can’t bear to throw them out.

One of those piles is a bunch of large, framed family photos taken over the last 30 years. They’re stacked against each other on the side wall of the garage. One of the foremost pictures is of my mum, my sister, and me, taken many moons ago (above). As I go to and fro my eyes catch it every time, and every time there’s a subtle shift of memory. I remember the day the photo was taken, long ago as it was, it was one of a series of similar pictures, formally posed, developed in fashionable black and white, and taken at what was then the family home in Lower Plenty.

Passing it day after day there came the time I couldn’t let it go. I picked it up before, and took a photo of the long ago photo. For the last 10-15 years it’s been in storage somewhere, I haven’t seen it. As you can see, it’s a little discoloured with age. It seems remarkable to me.

There is mum, younger there I think than I am now. She looks retro, very much in the style of the late 70’s, but also quite happy. Though it seems a solemn photo in many ways, she is familiar to me there, familiar at least to an earlier memory of her that I hold.

For the last few weeks I’ve gone through thousands of family photo’s, ranging back across the years to when my mum was just a baby. My last memories of mum are of her ill, and before that, the sprightly, but aging grandmother.

Day to day you forget that your mother – more than anyone else –  had a life outside of your knowledge. There was a time when you didn’t exist, and when, probably, she went about her life then not dissimilar to how you do now. Then of course there are the things you do remember, like this photo – but for the most part even those memories have been long filed away.

Now, I find, the filing cabinets have been flung open. Mum does not exist on earth anymore – there is no version of her here to refer to, but what lives in our memories. And so your memory is free to roam, no longer tethered to practical reality. You begin to remember mum, and to see her, in the different iterations of herself through the years. What happened before, most recently, becomes subsumed in all the years of living – and the memories associated with that – before. You remember, that while mum might have died at 71, there were about 69 years before that she was healthy, largely happy, and a vibrant part of our life.

That’s how it seems to me right now, though doubtless all the photos I’ve looked at these last weeks make it so much fresher for me. It’s good to know regardless, and good to remember.

As for me – yes, that is the young H. Can you associate that cute face with the man who writes in these pages? I find it hard sometimes, but I guess he must be in me too, somewhere.


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