Families are odd things. I’ve been feeling a bit low – some combination of a grey day, post-website completion letdown, school holiday tiredness and general restlessness. I had lunch with Mr. Blithe and assorted Blithe children today at his work. It was lovely, but university campuses also make me restless. I think it is because I spent so long on them. They are both totally familiar and also alien to my current life. You can walk onto pretty much any university campus in the world and it is instantly recognisable and to me, comfortable. I think it helps that I still pretty much dress like a student so I fit in! But it’s also such a step away from my daily life that I feel a wave of nostalgia.
Work is always a good thing when you are feeling restless and low so I turned to another small project that has been waiting in the wings. My mother brought a selection of old family photos when she visited and I have been scanning them onto my computer and fixing them up. In most cases I’ve managed to get a better image than the original.
And it is these photos that prompted me to think about how families are funny things. I see these children, so young and so close to each other. They seem the most perfect of friends and companions. And yet nothing is revealed of relationships, state of mind or psychological characteristics. You can look at a photo and not really know anything about how the people in the picture are thinking or feeling. You don’t know how they will turn out as adults, if they will be friends, what they will do with their lives. All you see is that one moment caught in time of three children with bare feet, sitting on their tarmacked front yard smiling at the camera.
I remember the dress: striped brown and yellow. I remember feeling cheerful and comfortable in the dress like a human bumblebee. I remember squabbling with my siblings though not if I was at that time. I remember the heat of the tar on the back of my legs and the array of bamboo sticks bound together to make a kind of fence for our row house so that we didn’t run out the front door and straight onto the busy road. I remember the water buffalo that used to pass the front of the yard and the children who would run after it to pick up the dung for the fields. I remember peanuts being harvested next door in the field and how we would run along the furrows gleaning fresh nuts. And the mice, rats and occasional snake that would visit. I remember convincing my best friend to climb to the top of a haystack to show me his physical prowess and him falling and breaking an arm. That was the second time his father had to take him to hospital on the back of his motorbike. Somehow, I never needed to go.
Perhaps looking at old photos isn’t really the best thing when you’re already feeling low. On the other hand, my mother is delighted with the images. This one was taken on their old camera that used to always grow mould on the inner lens in the intense humidity. Few of the photos of that era have survived intact. We look as if we have been playing in mud but it is just residual spores.
I’m trying to use some of these recaptured feelings from the past to think about how the Jaeckels might have felt, leaving family and friends. If they are in a new country with new customs and ways of doing things, how will that affect their old ways of interacting? How will they create new ways for their own family to interact? Will nostalgia grasp them or will they feel free?