When I arrived, this time, the trees seemed strange, twisted, dry. The birdcalls wild and raucous. The light everywhere. It felt like the ends of the earth. But the accents of the locals startled me with familiarity – I kept turning, expecting to see long lost friends.
I look at family photos on my grandparents’ wall. A tiny me sits on a log in a rainforest with all 8 of my cousins. There are family shots of my family, and my Mum’s two sisters’ families. And above them, in sepia tones, another family. I ask who they are. They are my grandma’s father’s family. He wasn’t born when the photo was taken, so there is a separate photo of him as a little boy in an oval frame. The woman in the photo is his mother but she died when he was about five, so my grandma only ever met his stepmother. Grandma points out her aunts. Aunty Jean, Aunty Marg, Aunty Ruth. Little girls. Jean and Marg never married; Ruth had three children but died in her 30s from blood poisoning which she got when she was dying clothes black for a funeral. For the first time it feels strange to look at photos of children who have grown up, grown old (or not), died.
Felix dips his spoon with great concentration into his bowl and brings it to his mouth. Grandma tells me when my Aunty Anne was his age she was impossible to feed, and one day she gave up and left her with her bowl and her spoon. ‘Feed yourself then!’, she said. ‘And she jolly well did.’
I look at the family photos on my Nanna’s wall. There is a photo taken when my Dad was a child. He is skinny and alert, standing close to his mother. His twin sister Irene, who died two years ago, and his older sister Marjory stand close to their grandmothers.
My Dad can’t take his hands off Felix. He scoops him up at every opportunity, showing him tow-hooks, bolts, the contents of the pantry, his mobile of jangly beaten spoons, pointing out the train when it goes past. Tonight I say: ‘It’s pretty amazing watching Felix learn to crawl’. ‘He’s pretty amazing full stop’, he says.
It is hot. We fill up a tub with water and let Felix splash around in the living room. Nanna tells us of the year in England, more than fifty years ago, when her three small children had measles, and had to stay inside with the blinds drawn down because they thought the light would damage their eyes. She brought snow inside for them to play with, and they were so happy.