I recently celebrated a birthday. I am now the age my mother was when I left home to go to uni, never returning there to live. I came to motherhood later and I am still a few years off my children leaving home, but it made me realised that I can remember my mother at my age - clearly.
I read somewhere recently that our memories can be shaped and changed over time. When a friend of mine mentioned that during the adoption process her sister and husband were going through they were asked questions about their own childhoods, the husband couldn't remember much and because his parents were no longer alive to ask it caused problems, it got me thinking. What would I answer if asked the same? Of course I have memories but sometimes it can be hard to differentiate between our own memories, those of our parents, siblings etc and photos. My overall memory is that I had a good childhood but would I have said the same twenty years ago? But what is amazing about memories is that they can sparked by anything, a particular smell, a piece of music or an object.
I have a small wooden box in my bedroom. It sits on a shelf I walk past to get to my side of the room. I can't remember how it came to be mine but I have had it in my life for twenty years at least, it has followed me on many house moves always placed somewhere I will notice it.
Underneath is a small winding handle and a lever, inside.....
...a mechanism, sadly no longer working, that used to play a little tune. You can see it is missing one of the teeth on the comb and the gears are worn so the music it does play is rather jumpy especially with a missing comb too. I could replace it but it doesn't matter to me that it no longer works, it was lovingly made by my grandfather, to change it would no longer make it his, a 'grandfather's axe'.
My grandfather was a quiet, calm, man, I don't ever remember him ever being in a hurry, certainly not intentionally, the total opposite to my father. He had a mischievous side, he once put a microphone in his kitchen where my granny, siblings and I were making scones together, the recording is sadly long lost but we did have fun listening to it. He loved to be surrounded by his family which I am sure stemmed from his own upbringing. He grew up in a small house in North London with his grandmother, his parents, his four siblings and a cousin who spent most of her childhood with them. They moved to the house to create a bit more room as they had previously been living in flat above the family music shop and piano workshop. A friend of mine recently owned a house that backed onto that shop the frontage of which was still recognisable from a photo take nearly a hundred years before. He had four children of his own and ten grandchildren at the time of his death, if he was alive to today he would be 98 with four children, nineteen grandchildren, and fifteen great grandchildren. We are a family divided by continents and divorce, I am sure he would have been the glue that kept us together better than we manage to do.
But the memory that is the strongest in adulthood, was his practical side. He turned his hand to so many things, gardening, winemaking, woodwork. He was an accomplish artist, I have four of his paintings hanging in my house, one is the first photo in this post. It hangs in my bedroom on the wall above the shelf with the box, it is often the first thing I see on waking. I cannot remember him ever having made anything in front of me but he along with my granny were showing me what was possible.
He worked all his life for the Post Office in what we now know as BT (the phone bit for overseas readers). I often wonder what he would have made of the changes in communications if he was alive today. We are not entirely sure what he did during WWII, in a reserved occupation he did not see active service. My mother visited Bletchley Park museum and was amazed at how many faces she recognised in the photos. In the 50s he was posted to Vienna, he took his young family with him who thought he was helping local engineers, after his death we discovered he was part of a spying mission, during a time of the cold war it was the Russians who were being listened to.
My actual memories of him are merging with each other, becoming hazy, worn out by time but there is a presence. There is one particularly powerful memory which hasn't faded over time, from just after he died. We visited my Granny at their house, many other family members had already arrived and the garden was full of people, my young cousins running around and in the middle of all this sat in a chair with her eyes closed, very still was my Granny. Apparently I sat with her for hours, I don't remember that bit, but what I do remember is the effect that had and still has on me. A part of her died then too, she was never the same again. The bond they had was so strong, it showed me what it was possible to have.
A broken music box and four paintings are a connection to a small part of my past and those of their creator. I know that the music box is unlikely to be kept after I die, nor would I expect it to be, it holds significance to me and me only. I do hope the paintings will be kept, I have written the start of a family tree in pencil on the back of them to give them some meaning and connection in the future.
I was inspired to write this after reading this post about items we have in our homes and how they make them unique, for me in particular it was the noticing and appreciating objects in my home and the memories they hold. Do you have any?