They come out as the day wanes, perhaps less often than before, the whole household on their doorstep in Summer. Folding chairs at the ready, a little fishing stool for the man of the house, fan at hand tempting a non-existing breeze. Maybe they’ll call out to their neighbours to offer them a cold drink, the same neighbours they had been gossiping about not 2 minutes before. I passed them by some weeks ago, noticing – not surprisingly – how there were no children playing anymore. To be a Maltese child 20 years ago. Now that, was a different story…
I remember how every season seemed to have a smell. Winter was mince pies my mum used to make. Spring was frankincense from Good Friday processions and exhibitions we attended (and the smell of my dear grandmama’s soap as her fingers made small circles on the rosary beads). Summer was sun cream and the faint waft of BBQs while Autumn was wet soil and new books – the smell of a new scholastic year. I would tell myself I’d know the season just from the smell as I stepped outside, a smell I most probably evoked out of sheer imagination.
I remember my mother’s exasperation at how I had the uncanny ability to grow out of my clothes just from the sleeves. The article in question would fit me perfectly otherwise but would always be 2 inches shy of a good fit at the arms. They concluded I must have remarkably long arms and, having given up the pretense of seeing me one day grow up proportionally, used to make me wear another long sleeved top from underneath. I obviously could not give two ducks about it.
I remember the village festa at Tarxien – something still close to heart. I remember my fear of boys spraying me with magic ink, just as I was sashaying awkwardly on my little heels (the show lasted until I saw the hotdog or candy floss stand, at which point all display of lady like behaviour went out the window.) My heart used to skip a beat when the tolling of the bells would start or when the Catherine Wheels sparked to life. It still does.
I remember going up to Gozo for Good Friday processions and Easter. They have a way, the Gozitans to add a kind of mystical charm to anything they do. The statues seemed more vivid, the chains of those taking vows dragged more noisily. The hollows where their eyes should be, were darker. I remember having nightmares because of the whole thing and yet, I watched it every year with eyes as large as saucers.
And I remember playing outside with the boy who always made me seek while he hid, watching the goats which still meandered in our streets. I remember Sunday rides in dad’s new Ford until I got nauseous and we had to stop at Busy Bee for a pastizz, convinced beyond doubt that this was the best medicine for an ailing stomach. I remember chatting away with imaginary friends while my sister drowsed to sleep, comforted by my voice and the fact that she wasn’t alone. How I used to imitate my elder cousins in all their fashion choices – with dire consequences (while they looked like runway models, I was often mistaken for a boy). We didn’t have iPads or mobile phones. We didn’t even have a PC for a while. We saw beyond the four corners of a screen. The world was our TV.
For me, being a Maltese kid meant growing surrounded by tradition and a thriving heritage, the result of which is my deep appreciation of it today. But, to be so young again. If only we had just one day to go back in time, to relive what it’s like to be fearful only of the dark. To have honesty and kindness come to us naturally, because they were the obvious things to be.
To be a Maltese kid 20 years ago; simple, silly and happy.