My daughter – who’s a great believer in the ‘If I’m told not to do something, well that’s just an invitation to do so‘ philosophy – always makes a bee-line for these two clay figures whenever she comes in to my office.
She knows their history, knows that my Mum passed them to me when we were staying with her when we were in England this time two years ago. She knows they sat on my Gran and Grandad’s mantelpiece, in pride of place, from the time I made them (when I was seven) until the time their house was sold, when they were both no longer with us.
She sits and holds them in her tiny chubby hands – despite being told not to pick them up because they’re very precious – not because she’s disobedient (she isn’t, at all) but because, I’m sure, she wants to feel close to this part of her story, her family, her roots.
I often find her sitting there, at my work desk, clutching them, rocking and singing to the little hedgehog, stroking it’s back, or watering plants that have sprung up in the little garden she’ll have made around the house.
Isn’t this why we all keep mementos? To feel close. To try to feel the love, the care, the joy that must have been poured in to these objects or obtained from having these objects close?
It breaks my heart to see her sitting there, singing away to her heart’s content, in this little world of her own making, transported, as she is in those moments, to wherever and whatever it is she’s seeking.
I watch her and I remember. The memories come thick and fast, at random, books being pulled off shelves in my brain, archival material retrieved at the speed of light, neurones firing, hormones releasing, emotions flooding.
I remember sitting in my favourite teacher’s class, Autumn in the air, the thought of making our way over to the kiln later not only a thrill because we’d never used the kiln before but a comfort because I was sure it’d be warm on the outside too. I remember scratching my initials in to the bottom of both of them, fit to burst because I was so proud of myself.
I remember the sight of the white slatted kiln shelves, everyone’s creations lovingly placed on top and then slid inside for the kiln to magically do its work. Disappointment all round that they wouldn’t be ready for that class, eased somehow by the satisfaction of knowing that if we waited patiently, we’d see them soon enough.
I remember racing in to the classroom the next week (the air even chillier still) and being shocked that my hedgehog’s beady black eyes (that I’d been so proud of when I painted the glaze on) had run whilst being absolutely thrilled by the blue of the door. I carried them both home later, walking on air, so proud of myself. The bubbles and patterns in the glaze endlessly fascinating to me, I kept them at the side of my bed for an age, just staring at them for hours and hours (it seemed), amazed that I’d made them and that they were so beautiful.
Beautiful enough to be given as Christmas gifts to my Gran and Grandad. Each one wrapped carefully, one for my Gran (Mr. Hedgehog, as he came to be known) and one for my Grandad (the house).
I remember the first time I saw them on their mantelpiece. I couldn’t possibly have been any happier. My Grandad had stuck a bit of cotton wool in the chimney “…so the people inside don’t get chilly” (with a wink). It didn’t for a second even register that it was cotton wool: it was, to me, simply magic that my little house had smoke coming out the chimney!
Every time I’d visit my Gran and Grandad, right through school, right through all my University years, there they’d sit, Mr. Hedgehog and my little house, on their mantelpiece. I’d notice, and note, them every visit: a mark of my Gran and Grandad’s love for me, that they’d keep these clay crafts, always, always with the smoke coming out of the chimney.
Fast forward to my Mum, one evening we were staying with her, calling me upstairs whilst Coronation Street was on (“Must be something important” I remember thinking). Placing a little velvet bag in my hands, watching my face as I opened it. I still remember her face. She couldn’t talk, but the tears said it all: these should be in your house now.
They were transported back with us, in my hand luggage, through Stansted, Frankfurt and onwards across an ocean (the emotional distance being far, far longer than any physical distance we travelled those two days).
I felt them, felt the comforting weight of them, every step of the way. A tactile reminder of the love I knew would support me in the difficult times ahead.
They sit on my desk now, just to the left of where I work. I hadn’t put the fire on in the house when I first took them out but, a few days later, imagine my happiness when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, smoke coming out of the chimney!
When I asked her about it later, she said, “Mama, they can’t get cold, you know” and then, “Mama, why do you think Mrs. Hedgehog is crying? Do you think it’s because she knows you miss home?”
Two tiny, seemingly insignificant, objects.
Two treasures beyond all worth.
Binding the past with the present and giving hope for the future.