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Friday, 19 December 2014

Collecting my mother's family pictures

These are some of my mother's specially framed photographs. After she moved into her ground-floor apartment in 2011 she used to take family photos to the framers, get the photos enlarged, and have the enlarged photos specially framed. Choosing mats and frames was a special source of pleasure for mum. After they were ready to pick up from the shop, she would hang the framed photos on her walls. She has dozens of these framed photos and now it's up to me to do something with them. I have sent some of them to mum's nursing home in Sydney but the rest of them I will take back to Sydney with me when I relocate.

Building on the nautical theme of solitary abandonment I introduced in my last post, the accumulation of family objects in my apartment reminds me of a game my brother and I used to play on weekends when we were small. My brother used to come into my room and we would sit on my bed and pretend that we had been shipwrecked. From time to time amid the confusion and strong emotion of the wreckage we would catch sight of flotsam, objects thrown up from the ship's wreckage that were floating on the sea. We would carefully retrieve the objects and anchor them to our "raft" - the bed we were sitting on in my bedroom - and then resume the tumult of lonely abandonment.

I spent about 2 hours in my mother's apartment this morning. I had to be there early because the removalists arrived to load the belongings designated to go to the nursing home onto their truck. They call this "uplift", and I think the word is fitting as it is indeed uplifting to see things finally leaving mum's apartment here. Then I loaded several loads of framed pictures into the boot of my car. I also took two of mum's frypans and a large saucepan that is ideal for boiling spaghetti. G and I are slowly going through all my mother's belongings and separating the useful - what we want to keep - from the chaff - what we will just throw away, what is to be shredded and thrown away, and what is to be sent to the op shop.

Every time I visit my mother's apartment to do work of this kind there I feel a weight in my stomach. There will be enough weeks before I leave here to return to Sydney to empty her apartment, but each visit despite being freighted with purpose always leaves me feeling depleted. Today, I feel exhausted and it's not even 10am. I remember feeling little tiredness as a child playing shipwreck with my brother. In those days we could sustain the emotional highs of welcome disaster for hours and hours before happily going upstairs to eat breakfast.

Now, it is enough to place the framed family pictures in my library and to sit down to write this blog post. The pictures are mainly photos of family members, most of whom are long dead, and there are many whose identities I am ignorant of. Mum gradually populated her walls with the shadows of dead relatives, and she got a man to come whose sole business is hanging pictures. My job now is to find a new home for these embodied shades.

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