One of the most precious things I inherited after my mama died quite a few years ago now is this box of papers and keepsakes she gathered over her lifetime. Among the selection, many affectionate family letters bar a furious one from my grandma accusing her teenage daughter of disgracing the family after she sneaked out the bedroom window of her Swiss finishing school to the disco; missives from lovers declaring their undying love in English, French, Italian ("woman world...I can hardly believe our good fortune in meeting each other"); a tour guide job offer from Galleon Holidays confirming a weekly honorarium of £7 per week and a note from an Irish couple thanking her for a wonderful stay in Ibiza, dated 1967; tattered telegrams from New Delhi and Nairobi and polaroids of unidentified people in exotic locales; all these friends and lovers who I'd never once heard of.
And who I wonder about every time I go through this box - where are they now? How did their lives turn out? Are they still alive? Did the dreams they had all those years ago come true? Ralph Abaloufia, 1961 ("we look forward to seeing you in Geneva in January as promised...kindly advise your father of this"), Alain 'Kiki' Kisselowski studying medicine in Paris, 1964 ("I think of you as my little sister...one of the nicest people I've ever met"); Esther Braun, yoga guru ("solitude is one of the most terrifying states a person can be in, simply because he cannot bear to face himself"); John Zelig Fogel, undated ("After calling in 9 handwriting experts from countries all over the world, I find a very interesting letter behind the scribble"). A year before she died, my mother said to me, 'How will you remember your old ma...? Will you tell everyone she was crazy?". It made me sad at the time, because circumstances were so difficult then. But now it makes me smile. Yes crazy, wild, unpredictable, impossible, hilarious, eccentric, nomadic, beloved, exasperating, shining, magical. I wish my mum was still here so I can ask her about each and every one of these letters, and people and loves...but in her absence I feel so lucky to have this record of her life, because even after a dear one passes, the conversation, the curiosity, the discovery, the relationship never ends.