SHORT MEMORIES

    Flashbacks, reminders, nostalgia, reminiscences, memories, or whatever you like to call them, can take many forms, and pop up unexpectedly. Sometimes they make us smile, sometimes they make us cry. And any of our senses can be the trigger. Even the sense of smell.
    I remember an old briefcase from my first few years at high school. Opening it, some dozen or more years later, out wafted a smell, the familiar smell of stale honey sandwiches reacting with fake Naugahyde instantly transported me back to Wollongong High School, 1975.
    Another thing I will never forget is low-pitched, rumbling type vibrations. One night in 1973 we suffered a medium-sized earthquake. Strong quakes are quite rare in Australia, but this one was strong enough (5.6) to wake the whole neighbourhood up - we lived at Bowral at the time, very near the epicenter. Still today I sometimes wake up with a start when a truck or train passes by at night with sufficient rumbling. The fear that I experienced as a youngster during that earthquake has been fused into my brain, much like an old soldier who is 'shell-shocked'.
    Sometimes it is a song, even just a few bars of a song, which might send you off down memory lane. For me, they often invoke memories of where I was and what I was doing at the time that song was popular. It doesn't surprise me in the least that in some societies, songs are used to memorize extremely long epics and poems.
    Everytime I hear Annie Lennox singing There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart) it reminds me of the day my mother died: it was a big radio hit at that time. The day I drove my old beat-up Escort panel van to see my father who had been at her side at the hospital. About the only good thing I can remember is, after months of suffering terminal cancer, she looked like she was finally at peace. Now, when I see R.I.P. on a grave, I truly understand what it means. That day, and the day of the funeral, undoubtedly the two saddest days of my life. So it is, still today, that Eurythmics song can bring a tear to my eye.
    My mum emmigrated to Australia as a child, spoke with an Australian accent, married and had children, had a driver's licence, and voted in elections. So you might say she was pretty well integrated into Australian society. In fact, she never returned to Holland as an adult, though her sisters and parents did. One of my maternal aunts, who has spent years piecing together a family tree, thinks we might be related to Annita Keating, Dutch ex-wife of former prime minister Paul Keating, based on how similar she looks to my late mother and also our grandfather's mother's maiden name was van Iersel - Annita Keating's maiden name.
   Sometime in the early 1970s, when we lived in Bowral, mum decided to become a naturalised Australian citizen. I distinctly remember that naturalization ceremony, for several reasons. One was the town mayor was there, whose mayoral robes looked extravagant, even strange, to my young eyes. Everytime I see a town mayor dressed like that I recall that evening. Another was an Asian woman, who struggled to repeat the naturalization vows. She spoke English so badly I could not understand her, even though she stood only a few feet away. I don't remember how many other people were naturalized, but I do remember being proud that my mother was the only one who repeated her lines with ease in perfect English. The Asian woman was of very short stature and was in a very late stage of pregnancy, another thing which seemed unusual to my young eyes. A reporter from the local newspaper spoke to my mother, and a few days later a flowery article appeared highlighting her childhood memories of Holland, especially living through bomb raids during WW2. I remember we kept that local newspaper article. We only saw it every now and again when we looked in a metal-zippered, crocodile-skin folder that back then served as our family photo archive. Each year it became more and more yellowed and tattered. Unfortunately the clipping has been lost in the intervening years.
    I remember my mother saying she once went to the cinema as a teenager in Orange; it would have been in the 1950s. She saw a war film, and fled the cinema in tears when an air bomb scene was screened "It all came back to me" she said "I don't know why, but I could not watch it" (I had a similar reaction when I saw the film Deliverance - sequences of canoes shooting the rapids scared me because it reminded me of the time I almost drowned on a teenage kayaking trip down the Murray Gates). Those same WWII aerial bomb raids have frustrated my aunt's efforts to better define the van Iersel branch of our family tree, as so many birth, death and marriage records were destroyed.    
    Fast forward to August 2011, and I am shooting gigapans in Ho Chi Minh City (eg. 1, 23) the old Saigon of Vietnam. Walking the streets, early evening, a tropical rainshower, whole families on motorbikes without helmets, and foreign tongues heard in every corner: all conspire to remind  me I'm a long way from home.
      
     But, just how far is 'a long way'? 
      Memories can drastically shrink both time and space.
   After eating out, I hear Cold Chisel drifting out of an Aussie ex-pat bar. More memories. Then, a pregnant Vietnamese woman stops and asks me something. I try, but I can't understand her English. I shrug my shoulders, apologise and keep walking, but something deja vu flashes in my mind... 
    For a minute, I am not sure. Then, the mental clouds lift, and all is crystal clear. It is that night in Bowral around 40 years ago, when my mother, and the pregnant Asian woman, became naturalized Australians together. I know what happened to my mother, cancer took her at the young age of 45, but I wonder what happened to the Asian/Australian mother-to-be? 
     Probably she is a grandmother now, just as my mother would be, had she lived a few more years. Perhaps the other woman too had lived through tragic bomb raids in one of the Asian theatres of war.
      I did a few mental calculations - today was about 26 years since mum died - actually, this month.
      Then I thought about it a bit more. It was 26 years ago exactly, almost to the day.
      Co-incidence?
      Maybe.
      But then again, maybe not.




                              - - -  Glen David Short, 10th Sept 2011