I step inside the cavernous warehouse and breathe in a sweet, musty old-worldly smell. Like your Grandma’s cupboard times a hundred.
This place, The Mill Markets, is made up of hundreds of little shops, small corners packed with curated vintage items, people specialising in records or action figurines.
My mother-in-law took me there for the first time and said she often comes to walk around and think. I’ve started doing the same. It’s like stepping back in time, when we weren’t all plugged into our phones like bodies to the Matrix.
Stepping into other people’s lives and memories.
There’s creepy dolls in rounded prams staring stunned into the brave new world, Coke bottles from different decades, some still full of Coke, records from the 60s with long-legged, mini-skirt wearing girls in big sunnies and long boots living their best life, a framed photo of a Victorian era family looking sternly into the camera, a book on how to hypnotise chooks, a commemorative biscuit tin with Charles and Diana smiling happily, oblivious to their (literal) car wreck of a future, a wall of pendulum clocks all ticking in unison, accenting the passage of time.
Football cards, a red sombrero, someone’s painstakingly cross-stitched picture, golf clubs and pink plastic flamingoes. A whole shelf full of intricately painted matryoshka dolls, crystal glassware that looks like someone’s wedding present, an Ansett white shoulder bag with a seagull on it, typewriters and fishing rods and vintage bikes.
A row of golliwogs who somehow survived the PC-police and a heaps of pink fluffy chairs with Marilyn Munroe’s smile emblazoning the chair back.
Things that were once in fashion, once sought after. I imagine the thousands of tiny emotional connections, like pieces of string connecting people present or past to all these objects.
I wonder what graveyard of stuff our generation will leave behind: soda streams and thermomixes? Every model of phone Apple ever spawned, all those awful plastic toys that Coles give away? Do I have much of an emotional connection with my soda stream?
Hoarding is defined as an inability to part with possessions and great distress at the thought of doing so, often associated with the fear of losing memories.
When I was in my twenties and had moved out of home, Mum would send me up to my old room to sort through my stuff. There was a drawer full of knick-knacks; porcelain boxes, chunky hand-painted bangles, an old camera, photo albums, a pile of electrical detritus.
I would drift into a nostalgic reverie, singing along to an Alicia Keys CD and looking through old photos or notes and cards until Mum called me down for tea.
I found a small-ish box and decided that whatever I can fit in it is all I’d keep. I set an external parameter because I didn’t trust that my emotions would facilitate the most practical decisions. I didn’t need to preserve every single memory.
Whatever I take with me will stay in that box, tucked away and dusty until I pull it out to revisit.
My brother and I were talking about the huge port wine magnolia tree which hung in our backyard growing up. He’s going to plant some out the back of his flat. On warm Spring nights, the air was redolent with rich fruity wine.
I don’t have specific memories attached to the smell, but it evokes a feeling; the feeling of being young and free, with the whole world laid out on your doorstep.
When my beloved Grandpa died, unexpectedly when I was 17, we were given a pelican from his collection. He had them I every shape and form from soft toys to framed prints. I chose a bronze pelican statue, its wings outstretched.
It’s a talisman, all I need; I look at it and I’m taken back to that house where the pelicans all live. He materialises, coming in from the backyard, fetching eardrops after we’d all been in the pool, sneaking off to Wendy’s for a thickshake, spreading the picnic rug out on Mona Vale beach. I can see and hear him, immortalised.
My memory doesn’t hold specific moments, like people who can effortlessly say, ‘remember that time when…?’
For me, it’s a feeling, a fragrance, a grasping an image.
When we’re heaving with stuff, we’d do better to curate our memories. There’s only so much time you can spend in the past and often it’s only a scent, drifting through the twilight glow of a Spring evening.
A bittersweet reminder that this too shall pass and we’ll all be in a box one day with our stuff.
What a pleasure to be here, in the present, right now.
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