It was something I’d put off for years, and it would likely take even more years to accomplish, but it couldn’t be avoided any longer – I had to clear out the cellar. I was tempted to toss everything into the bin and just be done with it. But then I thought, what if there’s something hidden in all these boxes I haven’t looked at in years that I might actually want? And so it began, the process of putting on gloves and opening up box after box of old papers, letters, magazines, photographs and, for lack of a better word, stuff – as in the stuffing, the inner guts of what filled my cellar.
I hauled a few boxes out onto my front porch and began. Almost everything went right into the bin, but when I came across an old scrapbook of postcards I had put together when I was just eight or nine years old, I paused a moment to look at it. I hadn’t opened it up since I was a kid. It was old and musty and I never liked the cover anyway. One quick look, I thought, then toss it.
Between sips of tea, I went through the pages. Childish handwriting labeled the countries — Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, Spane, Greece, Floridia, Africa & America. I didn’t remember many of the postcards, much less how they came to me, but I come from a family of travelers, so the collection wasn’t a total surprise.
Take the postcards from Denmark, for example. My Danish grandparents lived in Copenhagen and we visited them there, spending a few days on Skagen, a very cold beach in northern Denmark. Mom and I returned to that same beach together many years later.
Then there were a couple from Paris, where I would live for a summer, ten years later, working as a au pair. I whizzed around the Arc de Triomphe, beautifully lit up, very late one night, clinging to a friend on the back of a motorcycle.
I kept turning the pages. There were postcards from Zurich, which I explored briefly in my twenties, en route to a week of skiing with friends, and from Italy, where I would spend time during two different careers. Several days wandering around Venice for textile design in the ’80s, and then again a decade later to other parts of Italy to shoot a documentary film.
A forgotten postcard from my sister who was hitchhiking in Greece one summer – I was in Athens just last year, for my nephew’s wedding. And on and on. The more pages I turned, the stranger it got.
I caught my breath, slowly realizing that I had been to almost every single place (except Ireland and the Philippines) that I had pasted a postcard from as a little girl. It was eerie how prophetic this scrapbook turned out to be, despite sitting in the darkest corners of my homes for so many years, neglected. As if it was just quietly waiting.
I kept going. There were postcards from Mount Vernon in the collection. I don’t remember them at all. And as a kid growing up in London, I would not even have known what Mt Vernon was at that age, and yet I ended up living in the Mt Vernon area for several of my married-with-kids years. As to the postcard of the pounding surf in Coastal Carolina? The kids and I enjoyed a number of holidays on the beaches of North Carolina when they were little, and Zoë returned there to attend the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.
There were postcards from Switzerland, where I would visit Zoë, who moved to Geneva a few days after her graduation. And there were postcards of birds and other exotic animals from Africa where my cousins lived at the time, and where I would spend a few weeks researching a book on my grandmother’s life, many years later.
How very strange that a simple postcard collection became a sort of childish vision board – an illustrated map of many of the very places I would travel to over the coming decades. And also a prediction, I soon realized, of where I would end up living in my ’50s. Apart from “Floridia,” (where both my mother and sister would eventually settle for ten years), this is the only American state included in the scrapbook. There’s no writing on the back, I have no idea how they got there or who might have sent them to me.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I took a break from the mustiness and memories. Later that afternoon, a torn fragment of an article slipped out from another pile I was going through. I held it up to see what it was. It seemed to be part of a book review. And on it, these words were underlined:
“The dreams of a child become the journeys of a woman.“