Miriam Frank spent her early years in Spain, Vichy France and Mexico, arriving in New Zealand at the age of twelve where she attended Christchurch Girls High School and Otago Medical School. She was a senior lecturer and consultant anaesthetist at the Royal London Hospital and now dedicates herself to literary translation and writing since her retirement. Her autobiography, My Innocent Absence, was recently published by Arcadia Books.
I still see my mother delving through our suitcase and pulling out my cotton nightdress, while I stand stretched to my full five-year-old height on the mattress, with our belongings alongside, on the stone floor. I raise my arms and she slips the nightdress over my head, all the exciting new impressions of the day still jostling in my mind: the open-air souk, shielded from the hot sun by the white canvas overhead, with stall after stall of curious, enticing wares; the flowing white robes worn by everyone here, young and old, men and women – these last so completely swathed in them that only their kohl-rimmed, bright, almond eyes peek out… Now night has fallen and we are back at our mattress, one of an endless row, each housing a family in transit between the Old World and the New, waiting for our ship to take us across the Atlantic.
This is my enduring memory of our passage through Casablanca on our way from Marseilles to Mexico. We were leaving behind German-occupied France, and Spain, before it, from where we had fled as Franco’s troops closed in on Barcelona, my mother’s new home since Hitler took over in her native Germany. As she readied me for bed, I was running through my mind our various homes up till then, noting their mathematical progression.
“You know, Maman,” I had switched from my early Spanish in Barcelona to French in France, as my mother dared not draw attention to us in the political circumstances of the day, “first we had a big house, then we had a little house, then we had a room, and now we have a mattress.”
The ramifications of memory: I remember remembering our “big house” in Barcelona, out of reach to my memory today.
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Deborah thanks Rangimarie Kelly and Pikau Digtal for website design and artist Karen Jarvis for her image ‘Writers at the Devonport Library,’ (2023)