“Stories you read when you’re the right age never quite leave you. You may forget who wrote them or what the story was called. Sometimes you’ll forget precisely what happened, but if a story touches you it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit.”
~ Neil Gaiman, M is for Magic
One of the most disorienting things about chronic illness and long bouts of treatment is that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Living in this half-alive place for so long you can begin to forget bits of who you are, and what was once important to you.
Luckily my sister recently sent me some images from our childhood. Last night I looked through them to see if my younger self could shed any light on this life I am living now. I’m so glad I did!
Here I am on board my maternal grandfather’s yacht, as part of the flotilla that went out to meet the Queen’s yacht HMY Brittania as she sailed through Morteton Bay and then up the Brisbane River to Newstead House. I’m sitting on my dad’s lap with the binoculars, trying to get a better view. I need to know what’s going on. I have never wanted to miss out on ANYTHING! That’s my little sister in front with my beloved Nana (Dad’s mum), ready to wave her flag. I remember: I adore the ocean, boats and adventures. I love the act of charting a course and navigating, and the smell of salt air, well… that’s heaven for me.
And here we are, my sister and I, playing dress-ups at Nana’s house. We spent so many happy hours dressing up in her box of old clothes, necklaces and jewels, funny hats and handbags. I always made up stories of who we were and what we were doing and then we would act them out all over the house. The stories were the thing, and the clothes were the vehicle to take us there in our imaginations.
Here’s me, wiping sauce off my face after a particularly satisfying meal. If Mum, Nana or Marga (my maternal grandmother) was in the kitchen, that was where I wanted to be. Cooking,eating and anything to do with food, including growing it – they are some of my fondest early memories. (We shall not speak of my baby brother whose biggest childhood crime was pulling the carrots I was so carefully nurturing out of their pot, eating their little orange bodies and then sticking the tops back into the dirt again!)
Whenever I sat on the swing-set in our backyard I would think about the books I was reading and I would escape into my imagination, inventing the most fanciful stories. I was especially fond of fairies, pirates, knights, Kings and Queens, dreadful enemies, trees that could talk and horses that could fly. Of course there were also lots of castles, witches and scary forests too. Sometimes I would gather the children of the neighbourhood together and we would act them out, or put on a performance for our parents. Swinging was very conducive to thinking. Many of my best ideas were hatched there.
As I was looking over these old pictures, remembering my essence – sailing, the ocean, food, magical stories, family, adventure – I came upon this precious photo of my three grandparents.
Here they are: Marga the Regal Queen who is also a Pirate Fancier, grand Mystic Visioner and Magical Charmer, Ceddie the handsome ship’s Captain and bold Commander who always gets his crew home safely, and my little Nana who was the closest thing to a living Fairy that I ever met.
Darling Pa had already passed when that picture was taken. Pa was a returned Soldier, a Global Explorer, an Artist and a Tour Guide. He opened up strange new lands to me.
How could I ever doubt who I am or what’s important to me? Every cell of my body has been singing this song since I was born.
I like to think of my beautiful grandparents on a luxury ship up in heaven, leaning over the side amid the clouds and whispering encouragements and rememberings that drift down from above and into my ear to be retold as stories.
I shall lie here in bed today and think of my Pirates and Fairies and invent more impossible adventures for them. How lovely!!!