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Still Unpacking – memories and discoveries

May 11, 2012

I shed some tears this afternoon.  Sitting on the floor surrounded by my possessions, some of which have been in storage for a long time and so have been met with gasps of recognition as each piece of wrapping is removed.

Tears of joy to be reunited with family treasures and items I have hoarded since goodness knows when, and tears of pain as this little ornament or that reveals damage or long loved books smelling of damp, the pages now  stuck together. My Daphne Du Maurier collection looks as if it has been holed up in the basement at Jamaica Inn for years.

I cried when photographs would not come unstuck from the glass framing them and prising them results in tears or wrinkles.  I have left them to dry (hopefully) in the little sun which has appeared late this afternoon through my sitting-room windows.  The photos have negatives which I doubt can be salvaged after all this time, so these are most likely the only copies.

I know that they are only things but so much of one’s life is tied up in things when you think about it.  Things you had when you were little  remind you of a time or place or person. Things you had when out on your first date, such as the silly plastic flower that was in the very first Snowball I ever drank.  I think it was the very first time I had been in a pub and I can remember feeling so grown up having alcohol and such a sophisticated drink at that!  It has been with me since 1968.  How sad is that!

Then there are the vases left to me by my grandfather who died in 1966 and  which were his mother’s – over 150 years old I guess.  I unwrapped the two tall green Victorian looking vases and nearly cried out loud as I noticed the smashed top of one.  They have been with me since 1966 and both times they’ve been damaged they have been in the temporary care of someone else.  I cannot believe that they survived all those years only to be so abused whilst theoretically in my possession. 

Victorian Vases, now broken

Left to me by my late Grandfather, these are not everyone’s favourite but I love them – sadly now broken.

I loved those vases as a small child.  I would gaze upon them in grand-dad’s parlour, high on the mantle-piece out of reach, and wonder about them. When they were left to me I could not believe it.  I was a teenager and more than thrilled.  Everyone else only saw old-fashioned, not very hip vases.  I saw history and grand-dad and my great grand-mother.  She died just before I was born – she was a ripe old age – and until recently, there hadn’t been any photos of her, so my vases were like an image of her to me.

Looking at them now I feel so sad that someone else has not loved them as I have.  They are a direct link to my past and ancestors and as someone who loves researching family history, they most likely mean far more to me than they really should. I know they are probably not worth anything, but to me they are priceless.  Hence the wails of anguish as I unwrapped them.

Elephant left to me by my late Grandfatehr in 1966 - originally a table lamp from India

Indian Elephant left to me in 1966 by my Grandfather, originally a table lamp.

I still haven’t unpacked everything.  The garage is still full and I have no idea where to put it all.  I will get rid of a lot of things but I really cannot part with the books and photos and little pieces of my past.  It is taking me ages to go through everything.  Sitting mulling over every item as I unwrap them seems to suspend time until suddenly I notice how late it is and that I have been here for hours. 

I don’t miss having a TV set – I am fully occupied and engrossed – so being alone isn’t a problem for me.  I am on a voyage of discovery or should I say re-discovery, and the memories are flooding back as I handle each item. For a few moments I am taken back in time.  So vivid are the memories I can almost taste the Snowball, smell the parlour at grand-dad’s which was filled with carved Indian furniture (camphor and wood wafting around the room) and the look of the Indian rugs which were on the walls with tigers and elephants and strange vegetation woven into them.

I am minded of  visits to Cornwall and to Daphne Du Maurier’s private beach at Par, with our (then) young son playing in the rock pools there, with the hills and fields around,  green and sunlit. The lighthouse guarding the deepest navy blue sea.  Where more fields ran down to the cliff edges and her house, Menabilly, loomed high above us.

It is Georgian with sweeping lawns, huge trees bent from the endless winds and with  a long drive way to her door and – I imagine – to her writing desk  where she has written so many of the those books  I love.  Musty and damp now, they have been read and re-read so often and will be read again – if I can ever prise the pages apart – memories roused by the feel and look and smell of these books.  Priceless discoveries and memories.

I better get on and do some work. All these memories are very draining and I will have to leave unpacking (again) for now and come back to it another day.  I keep saying that.  I think I am feeling guilty for being such a hoarder and for spending so much time in reverie of the past that I keep putting it off because I know I shall get side-tracked (again) in memory lane when I should be writing.

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6 Comments
  1. A sensitive and thought-provoking post, Jane. I tend to keep things for their sentimental value: my granny’s china, my mum’s books, plants that began as cuttings from other people’s gardens. In fact the one thing I miss most about my mum – and she died in 1988 – is being able to tell her when I’ve discovered a brilliant author, someone I know she’d love. And that’s my one regret about my own books, that she never read them. She’d have spotted all the jokes and cross-references in them, particularly my Victorian mysteries1

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    • Nicola, Thanks for your comment and for visiting my page. I can relate to your mum and her plants. My mother has two roses in her garden which came from her mothers garden back in the 1960’s and they have flowered every year without fail and smell wonderful. They survived transplantation and had been originally grown by her father in the 1950’s. Every time we walk in mother’s garden past the gate where they are planted and get a waft of their scent, someone always comments about ‘Nan’s roses being in bloom, looking good or whatever. She lives on through them and people who knew her and pass the garden often stick their heads over the wall and make a remark about them too. How lovely it would have been for her to have seen your success and your books and how proud she would have been I am sure. You will live on in your family’s memory, not just through your books I am sure, but what a lovely legacy. You never know, she may be having a good laugh somewhere with some of the very Victorians you refer to in your novels….!

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  2. What a beautiful, emotional and evocactive post, Jane! I can totally relate to those feelings, even though I don’t own any precious heirlooms. But every move is a journey of discovery, and rediscovery, especially if you let the removals company pack for you and you ‘just’ get to do the unpacking. Suddenly, you find things that you have seen in your home for years but not actively noticed, or used. Everything needs a new home, a new place, and acquires a new meaning in a new context. It’s strangely exhilarating and unsettling at the same time. Thank you for this beautiful post, Jane, and good luck with rehoming those memories… XX

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    • Nicky, thanks for your kind comments. I know we should not be attached to things and that people are more important but it is hard to ignore the emotions flooding in when you have lost something and then pick up a small thing, like a plastic faded flower which were stuck into drinks in my youth and not suddenly get sent back to that time and place and the age. Lost youth and all that. Grand-dad was the only male in my life until I was almost 3 as my dad went to Korea when I was a few months old and so he was my world. Strict and old school, he must have thought his grand-daughter was one of his men in the British Indian Army (he was a Major) and so I was subject to his discipline and Victorian way of doing things which I must admit had a huge influence on my life. His vases meant so much to me and there they were, in bits on the floor, and I sobbed my heart out. I felt I had let him down, not looking after them properly and yet all the time I have physically had them I have never damaged them. Whenever I have entrusted them to others, they have been damaged.Not through any deliberate actions on their part I am sure, but just through a lack of care and love for the items – cannot expect others to feel the same attachment I know. I am still wading through my boxes and today came across a photo of my rand-dad in his Indian army uniform, topi on his head and tribesmen in the background and I just felt a real sense of history and how we are all links in the chain of the past, present and future, even if we don’t care or understand or acknowledge our place there. Quite a thought. Glad you enjoyed my post and thanks for popping back again. Your are welcome anytime and thanks for your enjoyable blog. xx

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  3. annieye permalink

    I can’t bear to get rid of some of my mum’s stuff, and she has been dead for five years. It’s really odd things I have kept. I cried the other day when an old plastic colander she had in her kitchen for years disintegrated and I had to chuck it out. I use her knitting bag for my knitting, and when I get it out I always bury my face in it and inhale, and the lovely flowery smell i can still detect is mum.

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    • Anne, I know what you mean. Seems stupid to get so emotional about possessions, but I think it is not the actual article but what it represents. I can understand you crying over a silly plastic colander….it represented memories of your mum. Cooking for a family is such a basic thing, yet it is, according to those Mediterranean’s we hear of so often such a labour of love for a family, so I can see how you might be so attached and emotional about her utensil which she used to do such mundane things for you all. I loved my grand-dad’s home because my dad was away in Korea and I had never met him (well I was a few months old when he left) and he was my dad as far as I was concerned as we lived with him and he was the significant male in my life. His house was romantic, full of antiques and interesting things from his travels and I suppose I had a real attachment to it and to him through his things. I was nearly three before I met my dad (in Singapore) and had no idea who he was and hid under my mother’s dress when he met us at the airport for the first time. So I can understand your attachment to your mum and her things. Thanks for your comments which I really find moving.

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Please leave a reply and comment - your input is really appreciated. Thanks, Jane

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