Sepia is the tone of the past. At least for me. Not quite rendered Chaplenesque in its reconstruction, but certainly not seen in vivid colours. The 1959 videotape of the arrival of M'Lady Nancy's family by ship to Australia, their five children happy and vital, the sky very blue and life as instant as is the present was at odds with my preconceptions. The past is like that, often at odds with what we think it really was. The indistinct edges and grainy imagery of that which has already passed is romanticized, or often conversely made worse than it actually was, or made even more particular and precise. We omit details. We conjure others. We restructure. We imagine. Even our feelings become a fantasy.
My Australian friend Mike Jablonski once gave me a memorable analogy about memory. He likened it to a computer's Word file that you open to view, make even the smallest of alterations, and then close down in save mode. When opening it again it is the new file that you alter yet again, and so on, each time, ad infinitum. Ha!
Ninety year old Nancy leans forward on occasion, peering deeper into the motions on the TV monitor, her family growing up before her eyes. A DVD has been made of a collection of old family handy-cam videos, impressively patched together. We watched the children grow through the years from infants to her eldest daughter Linda's graduation as a nurse. Sometimes Nancy waves at them, exclaims, blows her long deceased husband, Denys Sinclair, a kiss. Both sons and one daughter are dead. Dead. It is a word with finality. I ask her if she's alright. "Oh yes," she responds, genuinely."It's all in the past. Some of it was awful, but the children were happy, and one cannot change the past, you know. We have to get on with living!"
There is a movie called The Sixth Sense. It would have us believe that ghosts are commonplace. As I type it is 4:32 a.m. in this dark old house. There are unfamiliar noises everywhere. The next door neighbours were up at 2:10 a.m., doing an electric guitar and drum practice, their riffs and laughter and beery sounds penetrating across the way, waking me up. But by 2:30ish they fell into silence. And I, now awake and restless, hear this house breathing in the dark. Eventually I arose and used Nancy's computer to check my email. Now I am back in bed, typing on my iPad. The twin bed next to me has my ineffective lap-top computer on it. All my hanging clothes are packed in the cupboard. The fold-up items are in the bureau. The room is declared mine, but the ghosts of other people are come to watch. In this space much older men than I have slept, Perry. Boyo, and passed away. And the cottage itself, cracked and creaking and belaboured in its very existence, has a story after a story to tell, or to bury.
Nancy and her eldest daughter Linda (also older than me) picked me up at Perth airport. Getting away from it became an ordeal in the intense heat of the day. The meter swallowed up her ticket. The gate attendant was not there. The turn-off to the short-cut was not found. The car's air-conditioning was broken. And then, once the 30 odd broiling minutes of the drive to Guildford was achieved, we came inside Flinds's Cottage to delightful coolness, to a glass of welcoming bubbly, to presents of Canadiana, and to toast the recapturing of history. Really, her-story. Yes? The sixth sense surrounds us inasmuch as we remake ourselves based on memory (even if in sepia tones) and then, in a spirit of acceptance, let it go.