I seldom enjoy trips to see my Grandmother. Normally, she will tell the same story over and over, call me fat, buy me chocolate and then call me fat again, with some not so subtle racist undertones thrown in for good measure. Yet still occasionally treat me by bringing downstairs thousands of photos for me to sift through. Seeing my mother as a child and young adult is fascinating.
A while back now she was having insulation installed. I was tasked with clearing out her attic. There was wave of excitement. I could already imagine the sparkling haul of valuable antiques that awaited me. Of course my Mother had informed me that there were no such items of immense value locked away up there. What did she know? She only was only raised by her, grew up in the house, that’s no reason to dash my hopes.
I made it to her house in record time, it were as if I had sailed a pirate ship there ready to collect my booty. Like Indiana Jones; I too was about to discover chambers of gold within some mystic pyramid. Yet still, I too had many obstacles to overcome. First there was the coffee and the small talk. Then it was the intolerable re-telling of her week, over and over again. I evaded all without capture until the question and answer round.
As many of you will know, any real families operate best on a tightly strung web of lies. Take a wrong step and risk falling into an abyss of arguments, moral disputes and the terrible childhood memories. One by one being dredged like a police task force looking for a body at the bottom of a river. I wasn’t prepared for this; I had let the excitement get to me, rushed over too soon. She hit me with a hard one first, she wasn’t letting go of her treasures without a fight.
“When do your mother’s school holidays begin again?”
To assume my grandmother is old is a safe bet; to assume she is unintelligent is the end of you. My grandmother’s brain operates at a level that would rival me at my prime. She’s crafty; did she already know the answer? Had my mother already lied to her? I was in trouble.
The questions came fast and hard like that for a while, I didn’t know how I was getting on, all the while I could see the key to the attic, perched on the arm of the chair, glinting at me, sparkling. As the sun beamed on through the windows and filled the room it matched all the joy that I could hardly keep inside of me. I needed a cigarette break. It was a strategic mistake.
On the one hand I had to paddle through the shallow waters of the ‘When are you going to stop smoking, you’re just as bad as your mother speech’. On the other hand I was out of the deep end. I could handle the lecture, try and curve ball it back into my side of the court.
“I think I’m going to quit soon.”
Yes! Now was the time. I had been saving that one up for a special occasion. I knew I could only ever use it once for I had no intention of quitting. Get her back on my side I thought. She will be exhilarated, she will hand the key right over. It worked. I was in. I took my giant and speedy strides up the rocky ladders. Slowly my head poked around the entrance. I hauled myself up; in the dark I carefully stepped, beam by beam, until I reached the light switch.
I couldn’t believe my eyes, there were boxes and suitcases packed with strange and alien things. Shadows being formed on the walls of shapes I had never seen before. I was silent, stunned, even the spiders weren’t scaring me. I started to bring things down. I saw her, ready with the bin liners. There was too much for me to take back alone, how could I save it all? I rang my mother instantly. She was to bring the car post haste. Whilst I waited I watched my Grandmother rifle through an odd box or two, she would take out an old photo here and there or a letter. She kept telling me it was all junk, I should just throw it out.
When my mother arrived we loaded the haul into the car and drove it all back to her house. We started through the boxes one by one. There was the entire evolution of cameras. Cameras were everywhere; Coronet Clippers, Kodak Brownies, Beirette cameras. They all had their original boxing, with manuals, in perfect condition. As an avid fan of photography and a lover of SLR cameras I was in my element. How could anyone sell them? How could I sell them? They had to be kept.
We found an old school slide projector. Two even, one predating the other. The latter made solidly of metal. The weight was tremendous! It was accompanied by tons of slides, of my mother when she was my age, drinking and throwing house parties in the 70’s. What a huge slice of culture and history I was in store for!
Amongst the remains of tanning lamps, photo albums and spider legs there was a suitcase. A very old suitcase made of solid wood and covered in a resin soaked canvass. It looked like it had been made from the remains of an old British Spitfire. After I opened it and the dust settled I could hardly believe my eyes. Stacks, and stacks of hundreds of neatly kept cigarette cards. Dating right back to the early 1900’s. I was aghast, full set after full set. Some were in old biscuit tins, others in a vintage cake box.
The final find was a mint condition, second edition, set of ten text books on story writing. How I love to write, how I love narrative and characters, plots, linear, non-linear, Todderov, drama and all things retro and cool!
I never got to meet my grandfathers, on either side of the war. I must say, it was a fascinating journey. The slides and photos, my passion for photography and my love of writing, all locked in an attic for 22 years. I think what shocked me most was the cigarette cards. It was the inane sense of sentiment and loyalty to a collection. You see, I too have a box, a large box, filled with wondrous things that I have kept precious from my childhood. Who knows, maybe I’ll pass it down on better terms, or maybe, just maybe, I’ll rock someone’s world from beyond the grave for just one day.
I could never bring myself to sell a single thing of personal value, and that was the real treasure I was most excited for!