‘The View from Here’ (Ann Mihkelson)
is a sequel to ‘Three Suitcases and a Three year Old’ written ten years earlier.
Lots of ideas and questions were swimming in my head soon after finishing the first book. Not all had been said, there were artefacts that were going to the museum so I needed to do their provenances, think about their stories in our lives; some items needed research, for there was much that I did not know, and above all, I had to do justice to a legacy of human endeavour. A legacy is an unfolding story and there were many stories to reflect on. Mementos and my own memories of my parents’ stories were triggers to the sequel.
I wanted to know where the artefacts had been, what had happened to them and the adventure that brought them to the other side of the world. I was the guardian of memories and mementos, but in addition, they had become a part of me too, a part of my own life. I still wear my mother’s brooches and cherish the few things I could not send to the museum… just yet … because I wanted them near me. It is as if these mementos displaced some part of the immediate world, just like in a scientific explanation of buoyancy, an object displaces a weight of air by its shape. Imagine the memories and mementos to be colourful beach balls bobbing on water, pushing aside the immediate.
My parents told stories – at times when a memory came flitting by, triggered by a thought or action, or sense of taste or smell or view in the landscape that could be compared with a past life now out of reach. They broke into asides, shared a memory or a vision, and there I was entranced, yet I could not see what they saw. My mother would pick up a perfume vial, let me smell the remains of her favourite scent, and what I envisaged was the scent of the past, the1930s, and immediately we’d be in the middle of a story – a concert, a night out. I would try and imagine what she’d wear and had a vision of her as she appeared in a photograph in the album. There were many such occasions when I was swept into my parents’ lives, into a fairy tale where I was flying, flaying about because it was unfamiliar, yet I was wanting to know more.
My parents had left their homeland because of war – something I have not experienced because I was born after the war but which nevertheless affected me. There was no melancholy, depression – initially fear, then sadness, yes – but these were not handed onto me. Rather, life is an adventure and one must do one’s best in the circumstances. I was given a window into another world and it was up to me to build on it if I wished, in my present circumstances. I needed to explore my own reactions – how, why, when – and was driven by the ideas and questions unfolding into an emerging story. The nearest thing I could do was to follow in my ancestors’ footsteps and add my own experiences, as an adult, visiting a new country for the first time. I had no previous experiences, only handed down memories that would fuse with my own views – an accretion of interesting things with memories and above all, my own insights to create new ones. Such a story writes itself not with nostalgia, though there were occasions where they brought tears, but overwhelmingly, with a new energy of wisdom and visions gained and in synergy with the past.
But who would be interested in the memoirs of Estonian refugees of 60 years ago? I feel that insights to a different culture and incidences of human endeavour should make a human story. I had written little stories and poetry as soon as I could read and write and my analytical training as a chemist further quickened my senses to the stories of my heritage. Therefore, as I say, the book wrote itself; words stepped out in a land just as I stepped out into it and it was sensuous – in new smells, visions, tastes, and above all, knowledge. A magical sense of surprise when a wild strawberry explodes its juices and aroma in one’s mouth and to know it used to do so for my ancestors and I have now discovered it for myself.
Steps became strides and words soon take flight with growing excitement and the story unfolds.