By Susan Roberts
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the things we inherit. As some of you know, most of my novels are constructed around something inherited by one of the characters. This can be an actual object: a ceremonial knife, a notebook filled with cryptic diagrams, or a box of faded photos and old letters. It can even be, as in the case of my current Work In Progress, an estranged stepdaughter and an old house filled with bad memories and even older secrets.
I must admit, my own life is not quite this exciting, but I do have some things that I have inherited from my family. (That is, apart from a love of stories, a fascination with books and local history, and a warped idea of how exciting it might be to uproot and move to another country in my middle years. This last tendency had skipped two generations, possibly because my parents and their immediate forebears had too much other “excitement” during the war years.)
Two years ago I uprooted and came here to Australia, following my sister who did the same four years before me. On my first visit to Australia, I was delighted to walk around her house and be able to see and touch things from our childhood, and from our parents’ lives, all safely ensconced in their new Australian home. Little bits of settler history transferred from one former British colony to another former British colony in the twenty-first century.
I didn’t bring my whole household with me – just a small Move Cube and two beloved cats. The cats have settled in well, but the contents of the Move Cube are still, for the most part, occupying space in my sister’s garage. I’m hoping that before too long I will be able to unpack and spread my things out in a home of my own.
What are these things? Sentimental things, mostly. Things that are unable to be replaced. Family heirlooms of the material type. While the inherited characteristics from my ancestors are with me daily, on my face, in my actions, in my general outlook on life, many of the more material objects are waiting to come out of their boxes.
One of my favourite family heirlooms is my dining table, hand carved by my grandfather between the end of the Great War and the birth of my father ten years later. My father grew up as the youngest child in his household, eating all meals at that table. A generation later, I too was the youngest child growing up eating meals around the same table with my big sister.
Throughout our childhood many activities were done around this table. As a family, we played board games, put together jigsaw puzzles, blew out birthday candles and wrapped Christmas presents. My sister and I watched our mother cut out and sew dresses on that table; we typed our first literary masterpieces on our mother’s portable, manual typewriter at that table; we painted with messy water colours on it – albeit with several sheets of newspaper between our artistic endeavours and the surface hand carved by our grandfather.
In more recent years, I set up my computer at that table, moving it only for the occasional dinner party. I have also written the bulk of my novels, short stories, plays and various competition entries at that table.
It thrills me to know that the table has come all the way to Australia to start a new life with me. I wish I knew more about its origins, where our grandfather carved it, what gave him the idea for the patterns on it, how long it took to complete it, and so on. Our grandfather died when I was very young, but I never thought to ask my father the history of the table. He must have known it, but probably never got around to telling us.
Somewhere in those boxes in the garage there is a photo of my father and his brother sitting at the table with their father and an aged great aunt, eating a meal. The table is simply being used for one of the daily functions of a table in those times, and my hope is that it will continue to be used for many more ordinary, daily functions in the years to come.