Devotion To Memory

Creative writing by Mary Floyd, from the 'If Objects Could Speak' Ports, Past and Present workshop, run by Suzanne Iuppa, July 2021. Based on a coin commemorating the launch of the SS Colombie in 1931, of the prestigious French Compagnie Générale Transatlantique fleet.


Spherical, I lie in my smooth, round, magenta paper box with faded gold writing signifying my importance.

Silent in the darkness, waiting to be handled, touched, caressed, needing someone to remember my story before it is forgotten or rewritten.

I don’t show my age, a relic, a celestial smith.

I was struck in 1931 by a Paris mint to commemorate the launching of the SS Colombie joining the prestigious French Compagnie Générale Transatlantique fleet. My obverse side depicts a beautifully draped female carrying a platter of delicious fruit on her head; to her right is the never-shedding palm tree, tree of life, self-creative, the orbital waves and the words ‘Mer Caraibe’. My reverse has a tall, mastered sailing ship and raised surface image of the liner.

Having travelled far from the lush green Antilles, leaving the hot breath air of Trinidad, into crystal clear warm waters, sometimes encountering rolling thunder, tossed about in the stormy Atlantic, arriving in chilly Plymouth, the same route taken by Columbus, then on to Le Havre.

I will whisper my story, I am the only one left alive, I will tell you about my handsome beautiful gleaming white ship bearing its French Tricolore, with her cargo of bananas and exotic fruit, and her distinctive red and black twin funnels, one a dummy to allow ventilation to the turbines below, great lungs of the ship.

There were hallways decorated with perfumed flowers, luxurious dining rooms with full length mirrors, a place of self-realisation, to be admired and to admire, the hazy smoking room, the busy Veranda café on the promenade deck, stunning marble swimming pool, and of course the cocktail bar where you could sit and dream whilst gazing into the infinite ocean.

My liner has long since vanished along with the attentive, hard-working Captain and crew, and the mysterious passengers, who were always transformed by the spectacle of the sea. In the warm trade winds they laughed, they danced, to the sounds of the orchestra, a lasting joy. But my past holds many secrets: I was commissioned by the French Navy for war service and unusually, temporarily renamed Aleda E. Lutz after the first American woman to die in military combat during the second world war. Decommissioned, I returned to the French company to recommence my peaceful journeys from left to right.

My previous owner, a wanderer who set out on adventures not knowing where they would lead him, loved to hold me, a cold bronze medal, in the palm of his hand. He was exhausted, he felt blue, his eyes were burning, he had pains in his chest, his feet hurt, he was getting older, a result of working long hours and many years in the scorching tropical sun. This voyage brought him great peace. He sought time to rest in his air-conditioned cabin with comfortable armchairs, painted with soft tones; he let himself be tempted by the glorious French cuisine. When feeling well enough he would emerge into the fresh air, roaming the decks, taking note, and remembering crossings from the past. His recall for detail was sharp and retentive.

The baby is singing, he stayed in the cabin, it’s getting chilly on the deck.

I travelled in his memory for many years, Jack with the Buck Jones hat, known to his friends as JRL, with his cricket bat, and stories from ‘Ilkla’ Moor. Until the seventh ray of the sun.

My journey continues, unescorted, predetermined. My art, my gifts are continuous conversations of the future.