We’re curious: If you were to move to another country, what #Keepsakes would you take with you to remind you of the UK?
This was a question posted by the Migration Museum Project on their Facebook page. I responded to it, detailing a letter I received from Buckingham Palace, a Cadbury’s biscuit tin and a mini statue of Edinburgh castle. The only quirk with the question was that I never moved from the UK as a child. I moved there, for the first time, as a hidden immigrant when I was 17 years old.
My keepsakes represented and represent my need to have a connection to the United Kingdom. I wrote a letter to the Queen when I was nearly 10 years old, living in the United States. I don’t know what I wrote to her but most likely it was general things about my life. I remember the feeling of elation when I received a letter back from her Lady-in-Waiting thanking me for taking the trouble. But why had I done it? Children, I believe, want their voices heard. They want to reach out to a community. I was trying to weave connections and chose the Head of State of where I was from. I suppose I kept the reply as I felt acknowledged and valued. Interesting and very telling too the time I wrote it, still a child in elementary school but on the cusp of adolescence.
Whenever I went on home leave, I would always get excited by British treats. My favourites being Cadbury’s chocolate and Walker’s crisps. But inside my Union Jack covered Cadbury’s biscuit tin is evidence of a third culture life. It appears today an unconscious but relevant image on my desk. What appears on the outside is not always what’s on the inside. I keep letters that I received back from childhood friends. I was a keen pen pal and worked hard to maintain the contacts I no longer saw before me. I still read them today and smile. In their handwriting, I can almost see their hand moving with pen or pencil. A body immortal. Scattered in between the correspondence; A class photo from the International School of Geneva. A certificate from when I graduated from the 6th grade in Virginia. My cross country medal from Ankara and base entry identification card. A theatre award from my boarding school in England. A pink card with my photo, weight and height issued by the Chinese government. An Abu Dhabi employee card and Paris Navigo travel card. I count them now as relics or even personal museum pieces.
I started collecting, absentmindedly, little statues of famous buildings when I was a teenager. My first two being a mini Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. The Edinburgh Castle is now amongst them. Whenever I see it, I am reminded of the joy I felt whenever I set out to discover some part of the UK. It was new to me, this land, whether I was there for visiting as a girl or when I moved to London as an adult. The revelations the countryside, villages, towns or cities gave me were important as growing up I felt, but did not understand as yet, the absence of a sense of history.
“This time tomorrow, we’ll be on an airplane,” or “On this day, ten years ago…” my father used to say this to me, looking at his watch. And I would readily take part in the reminiscing and the to and fro between geographical spaces. My husband and I laughed when we saw our daughter confidently walk into the new kitchen in our house in The Netherlands, as if she’d always lived there. But I will also never forget the look on her face when I opened the removal box from France and all her old toys came tumbling out. Who we were is also who we are.
I am not a pack rat or clutter bug and I can be ruthless with objects. With every move, comes a purging. Each step in a new country, a sloughing off begins. It brings freshness and vitality. But I will never get rid of my box of letters and mementos or statues. Third culture kids are children who migrate, sometimes many times in their 18 years of childhood. And we still migrate as adults, in our minds, to the lost places we can’t return to. I know I do at times when the day is done, in the still of the evening. And yes, I am sometimes compelled to open my box. But I’m happy to close it again too as life inexorably moves on, as it should.