'Hidden in our Brains?' Anne Cluysenaar blog

4 February 2011 - 03:42pm

'Hidden in our Brains?' Anne Cluysenaar blog

4 February 2011 - 03:42pm

When Simon Hicks sent on to me an email from Karen McDowell in New Zealand I was intrigued. This is what Karen had written: “I wonder if you could pass on my address to Anne Cluysenaar. I believe my mother (Muriel Paxton) was her first children’s nurse in Belgium. I have a reference from Sybil Cluysenaar dated May 1938, 93 Groeselenberg, Uccle, Belgium.” As I was indeed born at that address in 1936 I emailed Karen. She sent a bunch of photos in reply. “Well the Internet is an amazing tool!”, she wrote, “ I have carried these bits and pieces around with me for years always thinking I must find out about these Cluysenaars! I have a few memories of mother talking about you and your family but of course as a child I didn't listen properly! You probably won't remember her - she was with you from January '37 to May '38.” It suddenly came to me that her mother Muriel Paxton might well be the nurse my mother had greatly admired and often in later years referred to as ‘Packy’. ‘Packy’ = Paxton? In subsequent exchanges we agreed this was likely. But why would my mother would have used a nick-name? I feel sure she must have known Muriel from the time when she herself trained in London as a nurse, but the details remain a mystery to both Karen and myself. And of course, Karen is right, I don’t remember her mother, and I’m struck by how the past may suddenly re-emerge, yet fail to re-emerge fully! and also by the thought that there must be images hidden in our brains to which we no longer have access. Most of the photos Karen sent were familiar from my own photo albums, but there was one I had never seen before - me, as a toddler, stepping out of a doorway:

Did I never see this because it was taken with ‘Packy’s camera and kept by her?


Well, I am writing some diary-poems and this was my entry for January 5, addressed to Karen and trying to return some existence at least to the moment in the picture, a moment significant for us both:


She stands in a doorway, right knee raised

as if to step over an obstacle, up

an invisible stair…forward, anyway.

It must be Packy she’s looking at.


‘Packy’? A nick-name I still hear

in my mother’s voice, though I can’t see

what I saw then, as the nurse so admired

by my mother took this of the baby girl.


I wish I could pass to you, Karen, what must

still exist in my brain – your mother-to-be

a few feet away, crouching to catch

that moment of life, lost and forgotten.


Over seventy years since she straightened up

and I must have taken that step, but just now

the baby, me, grown up more or less,

at least takes this other, to meet you - her future.