There is a cupboard in my house and in the cupboard are forty or fifty boxes, bursting at the seams and each clearly labeled. The boxes contain letters, drawings, photographs and other souvenirs. The cupboard is a fading archive of happy memories; if my house burned I would mourn the loss of its contents with unbearable grief.
When I open the box labeled 1966, a chocolate ice cream-stained, lemon-yellow satin dress covers all the other contents. I was two and the all-important flower girl at my godparents’ wedding. There is me, later that same year; mouth open in a silent wail, terrified, on Father Christmas’ lap.
1964 gives me a glimpse at my father’s shaky handwriting (Crossley & Son writing pad) in a letter to my mother; he thanks her for the gift of me: I was born on his twenty-first birthday. I am shy and slightly uncomfortable at the intimate evidence of his love for her. There is a fuzzy kodachrome: Durban beachfront; she is impossibly young, her hair in an upsweep, eyes rimmed in kohl like Bardot. I struggle to reconcile this with a later image of her in an apron, shelling peas.
Nanna’s box still smells of Bien-Etre Eau de Cologne, a hand-embroidered hanky pressed between faded sepia; there is Oupa in his bowling whites, many shots of unknown cricket teams and – falling to the floor – a bill of fare from a cruise ship dated 8 July 1958. (Eight courses! Fish course: haddock with parsley potatoes.)
Is that really me, under the 1998 label? Did I wear that small bikini, baby Bunn on my hip; just ten short years ago? Look at Old Spouse’s lovely, strong hand on my shoulder; I remember so well the graze of his beard on my neck that day.
Recently filled boxes have tiny footprints and finger-painted pictures, Mothers’ Day cards and impossibly ugly jewelry, the value of which is beyond the scope of any underwriting agency.
Cartons of meaningless printed and penned pages, I am terrified that they somehow get damaged or lost; that some unsuspecting helper, one day, assigns these boxes of chronicles to the shredder or the garbage bin.