Wednesday, 1 September 2010
When Cardboard Boxes Make You Cry
Which is how I found myself last weekend rummaging through cardboard boxes in my sister's Paris living room, coming face to face with my early childhood and feeling rather choked up. They weren't just memories you understand, but actual objects that had populated my early life. Like the 4 jigsaw puzzles of stylised scenes from Les Fables de La Fontaine (aka Aesop's Fables) and a miniature china tea set (which shattered when my sister's 2 year old dropped it - but that's another story).
I selected a few mementos to take away with me back to London: a small brass bell with an Alpine landscape painted on one side, a pair of tiny white gloves with a big red heart sewn over each hand passed down from one sister to the next over on our successive first skiing holiday, and my (small) collection of skiing medals.
The mere act of holding them unlocked long forgotten feelings of longing for the first flat we ever lived in, for my life as a 5 year old, for the way things were before they became complicated. I distinctly felt the remnants of the proverbial umbilical cord snapping, like old rubber bands, and a sharp pain like ripping off that last bit of a band-aid. I dealt with it by resorting to an old family favourite: when it doubt, tidy up. I sorted out the junk (old biros with dried out ink and inch tall chewed up pencils) from the treasures, knowing some would go to the next generation, and others would find a good home, eventually, via Emahus and Oxfam.
The pain that had come out of these boxes stayed with me over the next few days as a dull ache that ebbed and flowed. But I felt strangely elated, light, and liberated from the bind of personal history and tradition. Somewhere between the lego sets and Jacques Cousteau hardbacks, I had cut loose from my moorings, from keeping a foot in the past, from subconsciously resisting a full commitment to the future, to growing up, to becoming - well - me.
And this is how it came to be that one afternoon, in Paris, late August, a bunch of cardboard boxes set me free.