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There she was, amongst the acres of car parts and toy cars and old tools and new leather belts, sitting upright on a trestle table, as if it wasn’t me who’d spotted her but her who’d spotted me.  Miraculously, she was right beside the show-ground entrance; all day hundreds of people had walked past and ignored her, or they saw her but simply weren’t interested.  Wasn’t it obvious how beautiful she was?

She’s such a rich, royal red, at least a foot high, and you’d need three hands if you wanted to wrap yourself around it completely.  And what decoration she has: images of flowers created from savoury biscuits, Saladas we’d call them, although they’re probably a different brand in the design.  The way I remember it the biscuit barrel we had when I was a little boy and then a moody, introverted teenager (how little has changed) was filled with sweet biscuits – Chocolate Wheatens, caramel crèmes, Tim Tams if someone in the family was doing well.

The clear glass knob on the top like a pom-pom on a winter beanie.  The directions inside the lid: ‘Before using for the first time, merely unscrew the BLUE MAGIC DRI-NOB from the KRISPY KAN lid, wipe with a damp cloth and place the DRI-NOB in a hot (400-450) oven for 15 to 30 minutes.  The BLUE MAGIC crystals will then be bright blue in colour and ready to absorb moisture’.  What enchantment!  What delight!

When I found her on that swap-meet trestle table – or she had found me – it was as though a member of my family was sitting there, not a parent or one of my brothers but someone very different, an angel in the shape of a red-tin biscuit barrel, an angel that had been missing from my life, because each of us has to grow up to become an adult, which, by definition, means ‘someone who has no need for angels’.  Now that I’m in the second half of my life, the downhill run, the red-tin biscuit-barrel angel is back, she’s come for me, and how lucky that makes me feel, how lucky I am.

I have her home with me now, I paid $20 for her.

I know that tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year, I’ll need her, I’ll hug her, I’ll reach in my hand and find – at last – what I’m looking for.

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 30 April 2011.)

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The past