Today your intrepid correspondent speaks with her sister Rhi, a young lady struggling to come to terms with her childhood baggage.
RHI: You can trace a lot of my issues back to a brown plastic suitcase. The Mothership forced me to lug it to school for four years. While my friends had Barbie backpacks, I had this shitty boarding school relic. This was a bag you’d take when setting off for London on a steamship circa 1955. Old people used to call it a “Globite” or a “port” and fondly remark what a sturdy, sensible bag it was.
I used to ask why couldn’t I just have a normal schoolbag?
“Because!” snapped The Mothership. “The Port is strong. The Port is practical. Bananas will not get squashed inside it. You can lay your homework out nice and flat. You can drop it from a great height and your sandwiches will survive.”
Never mind that it made me look like a miniature door-to-door salesman.
SHAUNA: How did the Brown Port come into your possession?
The Brown Port was the replacement for the Little Green Port (LGP). I got the LGP when I was in kindergarten. It was kinda cute to be 5 years old and trotting off to school with a tiny suitcase, but after a couple of years I realised its embarrassing-ness and I longed to be rid of it.
Can you tell us about its unfortunate demise?
It happened one summer morning as we were rushing off to school. I think it was a case of Mum thinking that I had put it in the boot of the car, and me thinking Mum had put it in the boot of the car. But let’s not point fingers here. The outcome was, Mum reversed the car out of the garage and mowed right over the top of it.
So it was an accident?
Oh yes. But I didn’t shed any tears over its mangled green corpse. I thought I was finally in for a decent bag, but Mum immediately launched the search for a Replacement Port. The hunt was exhaustive, spanning three towns.
“I can’t believe how hard it is to find a decent port these days,” she moaned.
Finally we ended up in Canowindra, the tiny town in which she grew up. We were in a dry cleaners’ and the withered shopkeeper produced The Brown Port from a dusty shelf.
“We don’t get much demand for these anymore,” he said, “But it’s a good case, built to last a lifetime.”
“Oh, she only has another ten years of school left,” the Mothership smiled.
“That IS a lifetime, Mother!”
But she was basking in her triumph. Not only had she succeeded in finding me a sensible port, she had got it for a bargain price, in her home town, and in the presence of our grandmother, The Queen of Shoppers.
“Yes, yes, that is indeed a good buy,” said The Grandmothership in begrudging tones.
So I spent the next few years trudging up the school path every morning, head down, avoiding the mocking stares, hoping the Port was somewhat camouflaged by the bottlebrush trees.
I have to say I think my Port was even more crap. It was blue cardboard and at least a metre wide. I’m sure it’s what Raymond Burr used to smuggle out his chopped-up wife in Rear Window.
Mine was worse. It was plastic. Brown plastic! It looked like a hitman’s toolkit.
Ah yes. Readers should remember that this was the late 80s, in which Everyone Else had a canvas backpack, on which they could scrawl their name across the flap in black marker, then add poorly-rendered metal band logos and/or the name of their beloved (4 EVA) . But, our mother argued, if Everyone Else jumped off the Sydney Harbour Bridge, would we do it too?
She also believed these newfangled backpacks were a chiropractic hazard, as the trend was to carry them on one shoulder only. Yes, it was far more sensible to have a small child carry a large heavy suitcase and slowly disengage the arm from its socket over the course of the school term.
Do you also remember the trauma we faced every second Friday? Every second Friday our Dad would pick us up from school so we could stay at his place for the weekend. This meant we had to take The Red Suitcase. It was twice the size of the blue port, made of vinyl. Mum would carefully pack my shorts and t-shirt and toothbrush and PJs on the left side, yours on the right. Then she’d drop us off at the school gate, and we’d have to lug that monster up the path between us, in addition to our regular baggage. Pure evil. Then it would sit there all fucking day in the weather shed, wedged between the blue port and the brown, with all the other kids’ backpacks hanging from the coat hooks and laughing it up.
It never made sense to me, why she was so insistent on traumatising us. It wasn’t like we were poor and couldn’t afford modern luggage. I can understand her desire to make her children individuals and not follow the crowd, but there are some occasions where a degree of conformity is necessary for survival.
It seems The Mothership’s parenting motto was simply, “You gotta be cruel to be… cruel”.
Indeed. At the end of Year 4, I changed schools, going from a 30-student school to the Big School in town. There was no way I was taking The Port into town. And that was your first year of high school, you came very close to taking Big Blue with you.
Yes, it would have been large enough to fit my bloodied corpse after some Year 10 kid kicked the crap out me.
The only way I got rid of The Port was to publicly shame The Mothership in front of her friends. I outlined the trauma that The Port had caused over the years, and argued that it would make me a social outcast at my new school. I would have no friends, be forced to drop out in Year 9 and get knocked up by some pimply git in the back of a Holden Gemini. Her friends were astounded that Mum had forced me to have such a rubbish bag for all those years. The ambush worked – she finally agreed it was time for a new one.
So what did you get next?
A shitty polyester sports bag that she’d won in a competition at Woolworths.