She showed me a photo of my grandfather in Sumatra as a child, his parents on either side. Dressed in white, a tropical plant in an ornate silver box and a wooden shuttered house behind. My great-grandmother, as though she is somehow already taking leave from the family history, looks without expression at the camera. She wears a thick, dark necklace and holds a paper fan. My grandmother pointed to the necklace in the photo, "I have that necklace somewhere," she said. "Maybe one day it will be yours."
In the photo my great-grandmother wears a white, drapey dress of lace, a wide black sash around the breadth of her rib cage. My grandfather looks about five years old, dressed in a sailor suit with woollen socks pulled up. My great-grandfather wears a white suit, his face is calm, his chest broad and a watch chain disappears into his pocket.
My grandfather survived the war, though he would never speak of it. He took his young family back to Indonesia after the war, and then on to Australia. My grandparent's house was full of strange carvings and rattan furniture and my grandmother would fry us krupuk, the salty taste and the crackle of hot oil on our tongues. My grandfather wore batik shirts every day that he didn't wear overalls and he made cassette tapes of opera, each one labelled with a felt tip pen in spidery block letters.
We buried my grandmother in a dress that she had brought from Palembang in Sumatra. White and drapey, cotton lace like the one her mother-in-law wore in the photo. I gave the eulogy and I think she would have liked it. I spoke about loving one another and family and the courage of my grandparents.
I should have said that one day we will all be the person in the photo. One day the children of my grandchildren will look at a photo of some old lady in funny clothes and won't know what my name was. Not much of what mattered to me will be remembered either – the petty fears and frustrations with which I furnish my life. If I'm lucky, at the end of my three score years and ten or twenty I won't remember them either... jobs and arguments, the things I achieved, the things I didn't – all will be forgotten. If I'm lucky what I'll remember will be the really important things – the milky smell of a baby's skin, the song of birds at dawn, a friend's good bye and the memory of kindness.