• Jen Seyderhelm

The one thing

Unusually for me, I haven’t felt like writing for the last six weeks. Instead I’ve alternately stood, and sat, watching with astonishment and sorrow while my little neck of the woods here in Canberra Australia burnt, smoked, stormed and finally hailed.

My older son is a statistics man, whereas my younger is spiritual. Both are representative of me in different ways. I’ve had a lot of quality time with the older, Jacob, lately so yesterday I encouraged my younger, Josh, to join me for some shopping to get ready for a new school year. He doesn’t like shopping. I reminded him that of late, whenever we’ve hung out extraordinary things happen. We’d crossed the path of an echidna while walking our dog earlier this week, come across seven (SEVEN!) black cockatoos in a circle of squawks while he’d been off school and really unwell. He’d also been my companion the day his beloved cat Sammy was critically injured.

I didn’t mention the last one.

He’d laced his fingers through mine as we walked through the shops. As we left the car park, we reflected how lovely our time had been spent together. Josh asked to select the music. I became aware of the vicious looking clouds while listening to the theme song from Sponge Bob Square Pants.


I said aloud a prayer that it wasn’t hail and that we’d make it home before it hit. As I spoke, I watched a thread of the storm cloud, shaped like a dragon, weave its way over us and then download hell onto my car. I’ve driven through hail once before. It was like machine gun fire. This was like bombs. Cars pulled over. I was stuck at lights. I got around the corner and went to park under trees. I could see small baseballs on the road and verge and became convinced the trees would fall on us; so I resumed driving, finding someone’s empty carport. I parked in it. Five minutes later the hail and rain stopped and the sun came out.

My windscreens, somehow, were undamaged. The paneling is dinged up, with the biggest crater directly above where my son was sitting in the front seat. I think I was relatively calm whilst in the car with my son’s fingers laced through mine, this time for a totally different reason. When I got home I got the shakes and couldn’t warm up for a while.

I’d had a moment, under the trees, where I’d thought this could be it.

Over the last month I’ve had a stash of stuff by the front door in case we had to leave in a hurry. Pet items mostly as I was counting on my family collecting what meant most to them and not being reliant on their mother to think or do it for them. The only non-breathing thing that I’d made my own mind up to grab was my laptop. I have almost all my important photos, documents and writing saved on it. Vaguely I also contemplated jewelry, music and other paraphernalia that makes up my life, but none of that ever moved any closer to the door.

What, outside of family, really matters in these moments?

This week I read this article about the items we love and how it feels to lose them. I think we’ve all had a moment where we’ve lost some-THING and suddenly understood how much it meant to us. Perhaps a toy, wallet, ring or picture. In the startling and unsettling start to 2020 that has been par for almost all Australians I wonder, have you asked yourself what thing/s you love that you would be bereft to lose? And, why?

I realized in the hail, in the car, with my son, that the one item that must come with me if ever I had to leave everything else behind is the book pictured below.

I can replace my music. I truly believe that my Grandmother’s ring and my first engagement ring will survive any disaster. If they didn’t, well, I can replace them too, although I’m not mad keen on jewelry anyway. Other sentimental stuff I’ve collected and accumulated? Mostly I’m a secondhand shopper so nothing much in my life is new, or irreplaceable. This book though, while not worth anything in a financial sense, holds my secrets, stories, the keys to my identity and echoes of my past. I’m getting emotional looking at it as I write. It means absolutely nothing to anyone but me.

What does it contain? A funny card and picture my Mum sent me. A photo of my niece and love message on the back of a small print of Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais that my now husband sent me when he moved overseas very early in our relationship. Random newspaper cuttings and comic strips I’ve enjoyed. A coaster a friend inscribed. Various lists of my top 100 songs over the last 30 years. My brother’s top 100 songs.

Mostly it has lists of music trivia accumulated towards radio programs I researched and prepared. In the days when I had the time to spend/waste on such delightful activities. I wrote these lists carefully with correct spelling and beautiful writing. They reflect a “me” BC. Before Children. Hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of MY TIME sit within this book. I’ve got some pages spare at the back to be filled with the loose paper of lists done with my parents and, less frequently, friends. There are pages from phone calls I would make to my Mum and Dad while living overseas, or in a different state, when we would give each other a music challenge and then answer it the following phone call. I can’t bear to throw these loose pages away by writing them up and ending the story. Yet.

My brother died in 2005. His top 100 shows his music taste at the time, which has never had the opportunity to change or evolve. There is also a single page print out of a list of songs he’d planned to put on an album for me, but never got around to. I’ve not scanned this page, nor committed it to memory. I must. There’s a napkin, with songs relating to some theme or other, penned by my brother, that we did one Christmas buffet lunch while our extended family mingled around us. And a purple page he gave me with some Bob Dylan trivia.

I still hear his voice in them.

To an outsider this notebook looks like random thoughts, lists and a chaotic diary with some music references. To me it is a part of who I am.

I’ve added to the book today. I’ve included the items pictured here that have lingered in the drawer beside my bed waiting for me to add them to my precious papers. There’s a quirky picture of Josh taken by his schoolteacher. I’ve kept it because it is uncharacteristically fun and he’s so resistant to having pictures taken by me. A card featuring a photo my best friend took, close up, of a flower I gave her. A postcard celebrating the release of La La Land, the movie. I grabbed it before I’d seen it. It is one of the most important films of my life and the memory of watching it with a woman who has become one of my most beloved and trusted companions sits warmly in my heart. Lastly, two concert tickets to see Randy Newman in Canberra on Feb 5, 2020. Randy is one of my musical heroes and has cancelled his tour due to lingering issues after an operation. He’s 76 and I’m not sure I’ll ever get to see him now, but I’m keeping the tickets to show that I did try to.

I’m not going to put the book by the door but will put it back in the drawers beside my bed where it has lived for decades. I just wanted to share my thing. My one thing, outside family and laptop, that I’d grab and take with me if I had to go.

What’s yours, and the story behind it?

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