It was a chance conversation. My friend S is taking her little girl, Miss Mouse, to the Canberra Folk Festival. Just the two of them. In the Kombi.
Anyway, we’re sitting under the shady tree in the parental pick-up zone at the school (where we pick up the kids, not each other, I hasten to clarify), talking this and that. And she mentions the curtains.
She has spent the day making curtains for the Kombi. So she and Miss Mouse can perform their daily ablutions at the festival without, as Miss Mouse puts it, “showing our bottoms to everyone”. Quite. One eye on Mr3, who’s building dams in the dustbowl under the tree, I asked, offhand, ‘what colour?’.
Even before she answered, I knew they were going to be orange. It’s an unwritten rule that car curtains are orange. I know this because, back in the day, my family had a Holden Kingswood station wagon, beige, with orange curtains.
As soon as she said it, I was in the back of that Kingswood, on the bench seat, with sisters B and C, playing corners, sweaty skin sticking to the vinyl, on the endless, endless driving odyssey we used to call Family Holidays. Later, our brother TICH (The Inner City Hipster) would be peering at us over the front seat, from his princely throne in the antiquated car seat between our parents.
Dad would do the driving. Mum would attempt to keep us entertained with games of eye spy, car spotting and God only knows what else. We’d sing through our entire repertoire of songs – Country Roads and Try a Little Kindness on high rotation – at least ten times. We’d listen to Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel. Ripper 76.
It’s a long, long way from the south coast of NSW to North Queensland. A long, hot way in summer.No DVDs. No air-conditioning. The windows always down, sister B claiming a window seat every single time due to car sickness. And orange curtains in the back windows.
Hell. And Heaven. All at once.
We had that car for many years. We’d had it when I was very little and my orange hair and orange outfits matched the orange dirt of the Northern Territory (where we lived) and the orange curtains. We had it until I was almost a teenager who could quote Anne of Green Gables ad nauseum about the horrors of red hair.
The soul of that car never died.
Unfortunately, the body rusted away around it. It was replaced by a bright yellow (to match the kitchen I think) Mitsubishi Express eight-seater palace. Room for all. But no room for the orange curtains.
It’s funny how our memories work. Mine is terrible. Half the time I think I was born 21 because I remember little of my life before that. My family’s always saying ‘remember when?’ and I look blankly at them and ask if they’re sure I was there. But take a small detail, like an orange curtain, and there they are, peeking out from behind it. Every family holiday we shared.