“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.”
~ Guy de Maupassant
When I was growing up my mother’s parents, Ceddie and Marga, owned a boat (first a yacht and later a motor cruiser) and they would often take us out into Moreton Bay with them where we would while away endless summers and school holidays.
One of my favourite activities was beach combing with my grandmother, Marga. She had a vast collection of coral and shells in glass cabinets back at her home on the Brisbane River, and an eagle’s eye for finding new treasures.
I remember walking a narrow isthmus of sand one day, between Bird and Goat Island. To my delight I found a small piece of bleached coral that for all the world resembled a tiny bird. I picked it up, cleaned off the grains of sand at the edge of the water, and hurried to show my grandmother.
Yes, she said, enthusiastically. She could see the bird too. What a good find it was! I loved her so much in that moment that I spontaneously gave my coral bird to her.
Back at the boat, as we were preparing dinner she showed my coral bird to my grandfather, and he then took out a giant book of Australian birds so that we could work out what kind of bird it might be.
A pied oyster catcher, I decided. Turned to coral by a terrible, mean witch.
My grandparents have both passed away now, and last year Mum packed up their home. A few of the boxes made their way to me at my little farm down at Possum Creek, and in one of those boxes was Marga’s shell and coral collection.
Imagine my surprise to find my little coral bird, tucked up amidst my grandmother’s treasures.
It evoked such a tenderness in me, to hold that small bird again, and to think back on the many happy times I shared with my grandparents, learning about nature, quiet time and the importance of imagination.
I realise now what defining influences they have been in my life, and I am filled with love and gratitude that they were able to pass such values to me through their own way of living.
I’d forgotten that this small piece of coral was what created my fascination with pied oyster catchers, a bird I often see on the beaches of northern New South Wales.
Isn’t life the most wonderful unfolding story!