Thursday, 12 September 2013

Memories are made of...

There are some things one remembers even though they may never have happened.”― Harold Pinter

Things 1 & 2 started school on Monday. The next day, Thing 1 was disappointed to discover that school also happened on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, etc. Thing 2 is displaying her usual sangfroid. She’s already stepped forward with a request to ring the school bell – which probably weighs only a tad less than she does. And, having mentally mapped her new surroundings, all offers to accompany her to the toilet are politely, but firmly, declined.

This milestone led to thoughts about my first day at school. Hmm, quickly drawing a line under that traumatic episode, I took another sip of tea and moved on to consider how it might have been in my grandparents’ day. When my grandfather started his education, WW1 had already been raging for a year. He had a favourite tale he used to tell, of an elderly woman who stopped abruptly as she approached a field full of tents. An army officer approached and asked if he could help. The woman was perplexed by the sight of so many rows of tents. “These are for the soldiers, madam. Don’t you know there’s a war on?” the officer said. The elderly lady stroked her chin and adjusted her hat. “Well,” she replied, with a sweet smile, “they’ve got a fine day for it, haven’t they?”

My grandmother began her educational journey in 1918. As she discovered what it was to commit learning to memory, her father was returning from the battlefields of France, praying that he could forget. A hopeless goal for him, that wasn’t realised until his death in 1924.

I have some very clear memories from my early childhood. One in particular, involves my first encounter with a refrigerator, although at the time I regarded it as little more that a cupboard where ice-lollies came from. I would have been about two years old. It’s worth pointing out that the fridge belonged to a neighbour. We wouldn’t have one for another decade or more.

My grandfather upstaged me with his own early memory. He recalled being pushed in a pram, by his mother. The extraordinary thing was, the event took place at night. And as if that wasn’t enough, he described the sky as being alive with tiny points of light. Some moving and falling, drawing tails across the darkness before disappearing in an instant.

It’s quite moving to think of him, alone with his mother in the black stillness of the countryside, looking heavenwards. The two of them, their eyes filled with stars. Twinkling clues to the existence of other worlds they would never know.

10 comments:

  1. Amazing that your grandfather would have such a vivid, early memory. Have we lost the ability to take in our environment because of the onslaught of information, imagery and sound bytes. I wonder what today's children will be able to remember? Will it all just be "instagrammed" for easy access?

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    1. Yes, Kat, in his later years, his long term memories were as clear as ever. I'm so glad they were.

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  2. I really enjoyed this piece Martin. Never mind all the other ways children are forced to grow up too quickly these days, many never get out of an urban environment. It seems sad to me that they will never actually see a dark night sky full of stars.

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    1. I worry that some children will miss out on the magic, too, jennyfreckles.

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  3. This is a gorgeous post Martin, the way you have weaved the experiences of generations - the image of the mother with the pram and baby looking at the stars is quite moving.

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    1. Thanks, Gabrielle. It's an image I treasure.

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  4. I always enjoy reading about your Thing 1 & Thing 2, my grandson Danny started his first day of kindergarten on Monday, and his bus ride ranks tops on his day! Ha! Ha! Also fun to read about you and your relatives back story, and through it all your refrigerator tale is where I recall, how odd or ironic it was when I first married, that my refrigerator came with ice growing in the freezer! Yikes, it was one of those firsts for me.

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    1. Yep, a bus ride will do it, Karen. Sometimes the simplest things...

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  5. Beautifully written Martin - stirred some of my own memories.

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    1. Thanks, Nell. It's good to rediscover something special in the mental store cupboard. Often I think, ah, so that's where I left it!

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