Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Memory


I am struck so much by memory lately. Not in a morbid way or anything, strictly reflecting on its power.

I read "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" again for my book club. I loved it the first time around (2009) and the re-read was equally delightful.

I had thought in the past that it was such a shame most of us can't plumb the depths of our parents' memories. I spent a huge quantity of time (afternoon upon afternoon) with my mother when she had terminal cancer where she shared so many memories with me. I didn't take notes, much to my regret now, I thought it would embarrass her. But I could have written so much down in privacy later but it didn't occur to me caught up in my own grief and the care of my own two babies. She had fascinating memories. I'm trying to assemble them in a book. For instance, she recalled, in detail, the shock and horror of a barracks explosion in Castlemartyr, County Cork when she was a very small child. And contrary to many others, she remembered the kindness of the Black and Tans throwing her and her sisters English toffees as they rolled by her house in huge, loud trucks on their way to Youghal.

And then this line in the aforementioned book struck me:

"I am betraying you by dying, I am truly causing you to die....must we also put to death those who were still alive only through us."

And I think of living with my grandmother and grandfather for a while in that small village, and watching him, a labourer, set off for work in the morning and coming home at night with sausages in his back pocket (an enormous treat) and me helping him set the traps for the rabbits on the back acre, and tossing grain at my granny's chickens, and being kept up for all hours - don't tell yer mammy sitting on his lap while he and his pals set Ireland to rights and sang impossibly long olachons (laments) in the Sean Nos style. And one time, dancing with my granny while a fiddle and a harmonica and spoons and bones kept time. My granny was old to me then (in her late forties!)and I remember clapping my hands in glee at her agility on the flagstones.

I would be the only one remembering all of that (eldest grandchild)and I suppose, when I go, it'll be a second death for those, now long gone, who continue to live, and so very clearly, in my memory.

24 comments:

  1. This is a beautiful post and you are right about plumbing the depths of parental and grandparent memories...Most of us don't or can't and so much is lost. I know I have memories of grandparents my cousins do not and those will go with me when I shuffle off the mortal coil, as the saying goes.

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    1. Yes E so much lost forever. Though I f do recall a wedding of one of my aunts and dancing (again!) On a wooden platform in the back of said grandparents' place and getting into trouble for climbing a tree. ☺

      XO
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  2. One of my children bought a "grandparents' journal" type book a few years ago, and I dutifully write in it now and then. Then I wonder how trustworthy one's memories are. I'm the oldest, and I remember our family sitting lined up on our pew every time the church doors opened. One of the younger ones swears she got teased because we never went to church! I remember my mother giggling like a little girl and then being especially overcome if she were in a place in which it was inappropriate to be laughing. My siblings all remember her as a sober, upstanding and much-admired, but not much given to laughter woman. She died on her 45th birthday, so we have only our oddly-at-odds memories of her. I wanted also to mention that my book club read The Elegance of the Hedgehog a few months ago. I'm certainly glad that there was someone around with whom I could discuss it. I'm re-reading Annie Dunne right now and have been thinking about you a lot as I do, and this post reminds me to mention it. Are you familiar with it, or did you even suggest it one day long ago? If not, it's set in Ireland in 1959, and features a protagonist in her 60's, coming to terms with her life and the changes in her country over her lifetime.

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    1. I think, as eldest we see sides of our parents our siblings never see. I remember my parents cycling for hours me on the special seat on my father's crossbar and them singing together and getting me to repeat choruses after them and laughing when I couldn't say the words. Add more children to that mix and some of the lightness leaves with increased responsibility and far less free time. Different parents.

      Yes I did tell you about Annie Dunne. I absolutely adore Sebastian Barry. One of the Dunne series has one of the best WW1 books I ever read. Can't remember the title now but will dig around if you like.
      XO
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    2. I went searching. Was it A Long, Long Way? And I see that Barry has a new book, too, released this year. I know what's going on my Christmas wish list. Thanks for the suggestion of Annie Dunne. I love the way Barry weaves so many different threads together in that novel. I can't wait to discuss it at our book club meeting in November.

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    3. Yes, it was Linda, it still haunts me. Did you read "The Secret Scriptures" by him? Google isn't working at the moment so would search it for you.
      I may have read his latest.
      Glad you enjoyed it :)
      XO
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  3. When my mom was dying of terminal cancer, we did a lot of talking and she shared many thoughts and memories. It was wonderful. The silver lining part of it all, it was; that, and being in the same city with both my sisters for 10 months.

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  4. Have you written about these memories S JG? I have put together about 1/2 the pages. I was also going to include her letters and photos of some of her exquisite embroidery etc. And her songs. I'm not yet clear on how the final format will be.
    Lovely that you had the same experience I did. Sudden death does have its downside.
    XO
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  5. Oh, such a sentimental post that I can't imagine anyone not being able to relate to. It immediately made me think of my 82 year old mom and her mother who lived until she was 99. I've heard lots of stories;however, as you imply, they will not survive if someone doesn't write them down. *sigh*

    Good for you to try to re-capture your past!

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    1. I am trying before the tide turns for me Anita, as it inevitably will, mainly for my daughter and granddaughter to give them some sense of the time it was. Interestingly enough my mother and grandmother didn't get along very well, some old issue between them that my mother talked about which I think needs to be part of her story too. I adored my granny which complicated things for my mother, LOL.
      XO
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  6. It's a battle to get my mum to say anything at all about her early life, she's amazingly secretive. Not that I'm bothered about not knowing. I'm too busy enjoying my own life and making my own memories. As long as she had a happy childhood (which she did), that's really all I'm curious about.

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    1. As a writer, Nick, I am inevitably curious about everyone and everything and I like to put the pieces of jigsaw puzzles together as to me, nurture vs nature has a bigger role to play in humankind's make up then anything else.
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  7. Its a pity we don't write down things that our elders said and did. Once they're gone we realise theres so much we should have asked but didn't.
    It happens to all of us.
    Maggie x

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    1. So very true, Maggie, and some are naturally incurious about others especially their own families. Me? I can never harvest the lives of others enough as long as they're willing and usually they are.
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  8. I was talking to both my boys (on my visit to Ottawa) about this very topic. One is very sentimental and remembers so many things - the other could care less and cannot remember things I cannot believe he has forgotten! Because I was such a young mother I sometimes conflate the memories of my own youth with theirs. So weird. I interviewed my dad a few times (on tape and video) because I didn`t my mother (they died twenty years apart) but still - it isn`t enough and I guess, when I think about it, it can`t be enough. Ever.

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    1. Yes, Jan, so very hard to capture it all and to sort out the chaff from the wheat so to speak, what is important?

      Some families, like you say, couldn't give a whit. Others are religious about recording, scrapbooking and photograph filing. I wish I had taken more movies, 8mm were in vogue when my kids were small and we didn't film often enough.
      XO
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  9. I remember much shared by my grandmother's and mother. I pass on but wish I had asked more questions. Found out a lot I did not know after my mother passed away from a young cousin..

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    1. I, like you, found out so much about my father and his childhood from his older sister who shared freely and with great recollection.

      XO
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  10. My maternal grandparents had died much before I was born and I never had anything to do with them. I had very little to do with my paternal ones because we were in the cities and they in the village till they became too old and moved in with us our their other children by turn but still did not influence me much because I was hardly around them. My tumultuous relationship with my father ensured that I knew little about him but from my mother and other uncles and aunts I did pick up a lot of information which has enabled me to appreciate my background. No more no less.

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    1. I remember your tales of living with your dad,. Ramana, it wasn't easy for you at all as it isn't easy for most elders living with their super-elder parents.

      Hats off to you my friend for being so dutiful.

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  11. The things I wish I'd asked my parents! And even more, wish I could ask now. I have four siblings -- one older, three younger. Geographically we're kind of spread out, but every time we talk, I learn something new, things they observed or heard that I didn't. If only we could get it all together in one place.

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    1. Maybe the secret is for one of you to tape or take notes and assemble all the input?

      It would be a start anyway. An indexed notebook for different ancestors and pages for different time lines?
      Just a suggestion :)

      XO
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  12. What a wonderful post. I enjoyed it very much. When I was little, visiting Grandparents in Kentucky, I had a tape recorder I had received for Christmas. My Grandpa was quite the story teller. I recorder him and just turned in on at random times, capturing just normal conversation. Goodness knows what happened to those cassettes. I would give anything to have them now.

    I still hear their voices in my head but would love to hear the cassette full of stories and just everyday conversations.

    Take Care, Bobbie

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  13. What a wonderful post. I enjoyed it very much. When I was little, visiting Grandparents in Kentucky, I had a tape recorder I had received for Christmas. My Grandpa was quite the story teller. I recorder him and just turned in on at random times, capturing just normal conversation. Goodness knows what happened to those cassettes. I would give anything to have them now.

    I still hear their voices in my head but would love to hear the cassette full of stories and just everyday conversations.

    Take Care, Bobbie

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