the ole dream factory

One of my earliest memories returned in a dream last night. This memory is olfactory before all else, though it has texture, place and context as well. It is the smell of my father's sports coat, a mingling of tweedy cloth, tobacco smoke and his own incommunicable personal scent. I have my face buried in the roughness of his shoulder or chest, he must have picked me up in his arms. It's round the back of the house we lived in in Burns Street, Ohakune on some lost afternoon in the 1950s. I don't know this but I think I must have been running out to greet him when he returned home from the secondary school where he taught. There's the car garage, the old flatbed of a truck next to it, the almond tree, the overgrown crumbly asphalt of the disused tennis court. The day is fine and I am happy beyond words. In the dream we were walking away from all this into a kind of whiteness which was both Burns Street running out into scrubby, derelict farms, and the future. Nothing happened. Just this wonderful sense of his nearness and the aching familiarity of that smell. Don't know why this should have surfaced now. It's fifteen years since he died. But it might have something to do with the book I was reading before I went to sleep: "Innocents in Africa" by Drury Pifer. It's a memoir about growing up in South Africa in the 1930s and 1940s and there are aspects of his tender and beautiful evocations of family life in the midst of hellish deserts and even more hellish mines in those deserts, which do recall my 1950s childhood in a remote rural town in New Zealand. The landscapes are of course entirely different but something about the way the Pifers constructed a rich and satisfying life out of almost nothing is reminscent of my own parents' halcyon days in 'Kune. As are the dark shadows of impending dissolution Pifer conjures from hindsight - he wrote the book as a sixty year old living in Delaware and this copy was published by Granta Books in the mid 1990s. It is a lovely read and if the book was what triggered this early memory - which I have been half aware of for a long time without ever quite clarifying - then I am grateful for that too. Even though there is an almost unbearable melancholy that comes along with it.

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