I found this photograph last week when sorting through some documents at my mother’s place. I had never seen it before but it instantly conjured up another age. My age when I was, well, young. Later that month, I would be going off to university but this was a moment of relaxation at a family party, my parents’ twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, in the old family home, probably the last one before I went off to seek my fortune in the big bad world.
Here I am with some members of my father’s “first” family, the step relations from his first marriage. Joe, a clever and very funny barrister is now long dead. He was also a talented amateur film-maker responsible for the only filmed footage of my childhood. Jean, his daughter is on my left. She once spoke of becoming a nun but, sadly, sank under the weight of mental disturbance and died alone shutting herself away from the world in a house with an over-grown garden. She was one of my favourite childhood relations and at her family home, I learnt how to do The Times crossword. To my right is Christine who lived next-door. She would later join the army and become a rather successful officer, looking very smart in her uniform, before making a good military marriage. We lost touch. I carried on growing my hair and started a new life which still seems like the adventure it was. I would never sit in that group of four again.
I wondered for a moment what had brought the four of us together in that thoughtful circle but then saw the clue in the foreground. We are sitting there like the group of nicotine addicts that we were, worshippers at the Peter Stuyvesant shrine. I gave up smoking a long time ago but I remember with affection all those smokers’ gatherings from my youth. It united groups of people who seldom sat down together apart from at moments such as this. No wonder Native Americans put such store in smoking the pipe of peace. I don’t know what we were saying all those years ago but I like this frozen moment of relaxed concentration, forgotten but preserved so unexpectedly.
I walked past the old family house a couple of years ago and even though it now looks a bit down-at-heel, I’m glad that it still stands keeping a bit of me and my memories somewhere in its brickwork.
Don’t let my cigarette nostalgia mislead you. Smoking, I feel obliged to say, is definitely bad for your health. Shame. My father died of lung cancer in that house.