“What is your earliest memory?” We ask this of siblings and friends alike. Do we really remember those very early events of childhood, or have we become familiar with them through the repetition of family stories or from paging through the family photo albums so often?
What do children do now that photographs are digitally stored on an adult’s computer to which they have no easy access? Do families with young children go through their digital collections with their children now and then whilst recounting events from when they were really small?
“Do you remember when …? Conversations with family and friends can toss up, stir and retrieve memories of events we might have thought were forgotten – that we had even forgotten that we had forgotten them. Then, in those moments of reliving past events with others the smells, sights, sounds, feelings and people return in a flash. We find we can add details others may have forgotten as their anecdotes revive our own memories – all of which emerge stronger and clearer than before.
Some memories are attached to things. I don’t know who owns it now, or even if it is ever used, but my mother often wore a brooch that for some reason we children used to call her ‘flea cage’. Just thinking about it in absentia brings my lovely mother to the fore, along with the wish that we could still converse. There are other more banal items that do the same, such as her (now) very tattered Concise Oxford Dictionary that she kept at hand for cryptic crosswords and that was the arbiter of our Scrabble games.
Memories fade when they are not shared and revived when they are. Sometimes a particular sound, smell, texture or sight opens the floodgate of memories either happy or less so. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and writer, has been quoted as commenting that
We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jars of preserves in a larder, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and re-categorized with every act of recollection.
It is that act of recollection that we owe to our children: the sharing of their upbringing and ours; the threads that root us to our families; the lifeline for the years ahead. As families scatter across the globe in pursuit of better careers or more comfortable and secure lifestyles, memories are what keep us together. Nurture them!