Tomorrow is my mum’s anniversary. My dad’s was a few weeks ago. One year since I had parents. Last summer was pretty surreal. This summer is surreal too, in a different way. I’m very glad the two surreal summers didn’t happen at the same time because that would have been a lot harder.
I only have one photo album of hers from before she married, and a jumble of loose photos with or without helpful information on the back. The other albums were family ones that went back to my aunt when I cleaned out the house, that had come from my granny when they cleaned out her house. Mum wasn’t sentimental; I never caught her leafing through them. Her lack of sentimentality helped when I had to bin things I might otherwise have kept, but there’s only so far I can take that. I’m an archivist at heart.
This photo album is a relatively recent one, from just the year or two before she married, ski trips and Club Med holidays with girlfriends to Austria and Jersey and Paris and Greece. My dad was away for all of 1970 but returned in early 71, when their romance took back up, but she didn’t go on holidays with him so he only figures in one photo, on a day trip to Brittas Bay. Still, it’s nice to see him there.
Unlike him, she didn’t leave behind a diary for me to trawl through, meticulously annotated photos that he sent to his brother, sketches and paintings of people’s homes and boats on the water. I feel guilty that she gets short shrift in the tally of physical objects that hold memory. I have a couple of books, her loopy cheerful handwriting on postcards she sent to her parents and then took back to stick into her album, a few pieces of jewellery that I love to wear, to feel the depth of the past against my skin.
She was small and sleepy and fragile and barely there at all the last time I saw her. She was all but emptied out by then; but she had once, and for much longer, been the tanned and smiling woman in these photos, posing at the top of the Arc de Triomphe, with a backdrop of the ancient stones of Athens, lining up with her ski class on the crisp snow in a fair-isle cardigan, even a tiny figure at the far end of the waterski line.
I don’t need to have the objects or read the words because she did it all, she was there, it happened, I don’t have to remember it for her.