Herb put all his weight on the suitcases to close them. When he finally unfolded his body from seat 24C his $500 dollar suit looked like a $5 suit. He headed north to the Catskills but as the bus drove through Sullivan County the roads were peculiarly quiet. He arrived to find the festival had already ended, inspite of it running over by a day. Herb would have to stay longer than planned to sell the contents of his suitcases, ‘a grab bag of 60s crazy hallucinogens’. Twenty one years later he was still there, the drugs were gone and he’d found a wife. They settled in West Hurley, three miles outside of Woodstock. At the edge of their plot was a small orchard. One weekend Herb and his 5 year old son, Will, were digging over the soil. Will found this tiny toy gun. Herb explained that 100 years ago there’d been a little boy, just like Will, playing just here. And Will’s world condensed, even as a 5 year old this felt like an epiphany. Will still has the gun, held together with the fine wire that Herb coiled around its broken barrel nearly a quarter of a century ago.
When Anita was 12, her father brokered her marriage to a friend of his, a fellow dutchman in his 40s. Years of abuse followed and Anita finally fled north to São Paulo. She found refuge in a pension run by the church and found work in a local textile factory. Each day she passed a soldier, basking in the sun outside his barracks. Just a few months passed before Manoel proposed, neither of their existing marriages seeming to be an obstacle. After three miscarriages Anita gave birth. She put her eventual good fortune down to naming her baby after her husband, Manoel – no matter that the baby was a girl. This ring was bought to celebrate her daughter’s birthday. It was handed down from Anita to Manoela and from Manoela to her granddaughter Vee. Since Vee lost the Topaz stone from the ring she’s never taken it off. She was working as a nanny and after two months found the stone folded into a buggy’s rain cover.
Late Friday afternoon Thomas ‘Turk’ Cheney shrugged off his oily duck bibs. The next morning he slid into his snakeskin boots, a pearl snap western and Levi’s so starched they could stride out on their own. He grabbed his Stetson and headed to ‘The Elephant’s Trunk’ with James running behind. New Mitford’s flea market was a weekend ritual, they picked up rings, belt buckles and bolo ties. When Turk and his wife Joanne moved to a trailer in Broome County these accumulated things came with them. Turk was now in his 60s, ‘nothing worked but he just kept ticking’ until finally the cancer won. Joanne gave this tie to their son James on the day of Turk’s funeral. Throughout his life Turk had been fascinated by Alaska but he never made it out of New York state. James set off with his dad’s ashes. He hitch-hiked from Denali National Park in the west, south to Seward, up east to Valdez and north to the Yukon river, scattering his dad’s ashes at each point.
Paul has always been a gardener. His first plot was a dense postage stamp of colour, a penny packet of wildflowers – knapweed, cornflowers, campion and scabious in his parents’ garden. Horace and Gladys concentrated on practical planting; the family relied on what they grew. Every winter Horace expertly pruned the apple trees guaranteeing a bumper crop of Bramleys the following autumn. His day job was running ‘The Theatre Zoo’. He made costumes for London’s theatreland. Paul remembers gorilla suits and a two-man giraffe costume, it’s elegant neck built on a motorcycle helmet. He inherited his dad’s creative genes and became a photographer at the Natural History Museum but was made redundant in his 50s. 5 years of tedious jobs followed before he was unemployed again. He was unsure about what to do next. Gardening was so much part of his life that he’d overlooked it as a way to make a living. Now Paul’s livelihood is horticulture. He teaches classes on everything from worm composting to the Modified Lorette System of pruning. This branch was destined to be firewood, taken from his parents garden, but he realised it was the perfect teaching tool. It shows how a clean cut ensures that a tree heals itself. It’s also a beautiful record of his dad’s consummate skill as a gardener.
The family moved from a new town to an old village. Newtonhill was beautiful and bleak. Its houses were tucked into the folds of land, sheltering from the rain and south westerly winds. The village smoke house was dormant and jobs in the oil industry were fast eclipsing those in fishing. It was a new job that had prompted the move from west to east. Alex was now Head of Art at a local secondary school. Every weekday he sank into the seat of their green Vauxhall Viva, pulled a B&H from his corduroy jacket, lit up and drove for twenty minutes to Hazelhead Academy. For his first day ‘at school’ his 5 year old son, David, had made him a pencil case. He’d sharpened down 2 pencils, a piece of chalk and 3 crayons to fit into a ‘Bryant and May’ matchbox. He’d left just enough room for an eraser, a pencil sharpener and a tiny blanket of cotton wool before closing the box. In 2012 Alex died. David headed back home to Scotland to see his mum. Going through his dad’s desk drawers he found the matchbox, it was nearly forty years since his dad had first opened it.
Paco was still at university when his father died. Like his father he trained as a doctor but his mother, determined that his life be more stable than hers, encouraged him to pursue a more lucrative career in dentistry. He spent his days squinting at x-rays, pacifying children and fitting the people of Valladolid with gold crowns. Thirty years later his aging patients returned, asking for the gold to be replaced with porcelain. The gold itself hadn’t corroded but most of the cement that had held the crowns in place had dissolved away. As Paco extracted the crowns he would offer the gold caps to his patients. They would normally wave them away, what use would they have of an old gold tooth? So his collection grew and by the mid 90s, when his daughter moved to London, the little pouch he’d stored them in was a satisfying weight. Rosa, Pat’s mother, told her about an idea she’d had in a dream and the next time Pat went home to Spain Rosa had a present for her – a pair of earrings, soft enough to bend, made from 30 years’ worth of 24 carat crowns.