Friday, 22 June 2007

Childhood in a suitcase

After running a few errands this morning and putting the final few touches to the grant application, I came home, rummaged around in the shed and emerged triumphantly with our largest suitcase. Laying it in the sun to air, I thought about how so many things that one does are remnants from childhood experiences. For me at boarding school, the sight of suitcases being dragged out to air on the hillside for several days was the sign that it was almost the end of term and time to go home. I still remember my suitcase, light grey vinyl with darker grey flecks and a big shiny metal buckle holding the strap together. I still remember the tingle of excitement that grew to permeate every aspect of those last few days. Just the sight of a suitcase awakens those childhood feelings of anticipation – the waiting for the big diesel two-toned Mercedes taxis to take us down to the plains; staying overnight in the capital city with big fans swishing above us; following the flight attendant through the airport: swishing through the “staff only” lines, onto the plane; waiting impatiently at the luggage carousels and craning my neck to see my parents through the sliding door of the customs area and then finally home.

Nadia Wheatley writes that you only have clear memories of childhood if your childhood was unhappy. She suggests that people with “perfectly happy” childhoods generally have no vivid memories of it. I don’t think that my childhood was perfectly happy. I remember moments of crystalline, shimmering happiness and I remember the swollen lump of homesickness that was impossible to swallow. In that regard, perhaps she is right. I do think though that all children deal with moments of sorrow and difficulty, no matter how “good” their childhood was. And they remember happiness as well as these moments of difficulty. I would argue that an unremembered childhood is more likely to be an unthinking, unchallenged childhood.

Due to my parent’s work, I travelled a lot when I was a child and I have many memories of that time. Times when I was in one place for a long time (for me a year was eternity to spend in one place), I don’t remember very clearly. Obviously I thrived on change. Now I have decided to plant myself in one place and see what may emerge.

I think that Emilie, Carl and Anna will have very clear memories of Germany, their voyage to Australia and arrival here – not because they are unhappy (although there will be some of that), but because it is a great adventure whatever the outcome.

Reading the history of the school, I was reminded that in the 1870s Marburg, Queensland was still called Frederick (as was the school). It wasn’t called Marburg until the late 1880s. I will have to remember to have the Jaeckels be bound for Frederick with the name change as a later reminder of home.

Airing out the suitcase served the cause of memory, but the suitcase will also serve the practical function of accompanying my family on holiday. So for a week you won’t hear from me. I hope to return full of energy and ideas from the backpack of books and papers I am lugging along.

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