I’m perhaps five and one half years old, and I’ve been taken with my mother and my step-father to visit someone. They’re talking to them about “selling him the remainder of their stuff” before we all head overseas on the greatest journey of our lives. I’m lying on the carpet in a smallish room, and they’ve allowed me to look in a cabinet that contains something very special. I’m not sure where my brother is, but memory tells me he’s been sent outside to jump out of trees. I however, am privileged.

The cabinet has a number of miniature historical figurines, toy soldier, and I have some out on the carpet and are playing with them, very carefully. I remember the sun. And I remember feeling trusted, a proud oldest child. To this day the site of such toys evokes the memory.

It is a halycon day among many. We are living in a rental on the beach in Mount Maunganui, one where I can come home from school in the afternoon, stop to read comics off the rack in the bookstore next to our place, the beginning of a life-long love of reading, walk through the house and straight onto the sand-dunes.

During that summer I remember my brother and I waking early one morning, quietly climbing out the window and sneaking down to the water. We swim in the waves, yelling rude words at some old man who tells us to get out of the water, before drying in the sun and sneaking back up to the grey, weather-beaten bach, and back into our beds in the room we share. We’re smiling at one another mischievously when mum comes into the room and asks, with wonder in her voice, ‘now how did you two get all that salt in your hair?!”

‘Dunno!’ we say, ‘must have happened while were were dreaming!”

A halcyon day, cooch grass and lupin. Sand falling into sea-grass matting in the living-room after being dragged up across the deck by our feet. A Hills Hoist in the front yard and a glass buoy in a nylon-rope cage suspended from the rafters in the car-port. My mother was perhaps happier than she has ever been, pregnant with my youngest brother, and about to marry my step-Father. Helen of Troy, herself to be rescued by him, and to live on his home island in the Aegean.

Later, when we returned from Greece in shame, I brought with me several small plastic figurines. They are Greek hoplites in armour, and I keep them in a locked metal box, hidden in the wardrobe. A chest containing my few treasures. I would take them out on occasion as I grew and I would look at them, rekindling those days of happiness and warmth, and it is now, in retrospect, that I see it as a clinging to a past long lost and gone. A day of salt drying on my skin and the easiness of the comfort of being able to be little more than a child emptying the meaningless content of comics into my growing mind.

And no small comfort it was, for like my Grandfather before me, by eleven I had my first job, and helping to feed my family,working till two in the morning, in a kitchen, the weight of the world on a skinny child’s shoulders.

F,FLP

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