22 October 2015

Memories in a Box


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.

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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?


27 comments:

  1. Beautiful post! Isn't it amazing that it was only after his death that you all learned of his involvement at Bletchley? We listened to an amazing podcast via BBC radio 4 concerning two female members of Bletchley who were reminiscing about their time there, one of them speaks at school events. They still find it difficult speaking of their work because originally they were bound by the secrets act. The interview is available on I player.

    What a great idea to write the family history on the back of the picture. Dave has researched his side of the family and my Dad became interested when he met a distant relative as a result of a death in the family. It is not only our physical characteristics we inherit from our forebears but talent and nature too. We have a cousin who is adopted and when she learned of her natural parentage it explained her chosen career, she came from a family of bakers and she trained in catering and has since gone on to own a very successful restaurant business with her husband. You might like to listen to the pink hair girl podcasts on you tube. She is a lovely and talented knitting mad gal and co hosts with get 11 year old daughter Rachel. They did a whole show on ones heritage and the latest includes granny in the footage!

    San x

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    1. Families are amazing aren't they, I love what you can find out. I must talk to my parents more to record stuff!

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  2. What a wonderful post. Your grandfather sounds like a remarkable man with many interests and strings to his bow. It's interesting how you write that memories can be shaped, I'm sure they can, time does funny things to our minds. I've researched my family tree and discovered lots of things about my own grandparents which I hadn't known beforehand, it's fascinating and becomes a very addictive hobby.

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    1. It funny you should mention strings to his bow as there was a violin amongst his stuff in the loft which no one had ever heard him play!

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  3. Oh so lovely! I have been writing down what I remember about my childhood and my family in a journal. I figure the kids can read it one day in the future and know more about their family and heritage. I LOVE your box :)

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    1. I think that is such a good idea, I have so many snippets of info but not recorded anywhere.

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  4. I have a little wooden table about 8 inches tall and 8 x 8 inches square which was made for me by my grandfather for my teddies to sit at. I has come with me on all my moves and is still with me and serves as your box and pictures as a reminder of my Grampy - the only grandparent I had. memory is a fickle thing and it is difficult to differentiate between what we remember and what we have learned or been told. What is the truth of it all and as you ask would your memories of certain things have been the same 20 years ago? All fascinating stuff. Like Karen I am trying to put together memories and photos of my life so that my daughter can one day read it and maybe find the answers to questions she, like me, will have left too late to ask!

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    1. That's so true isn't it, leaving it too late. I do have a great aunt alive who celebrated her 98th birthday last month, my mum asks her something each time she visits and I love hearing the stories she has to tell.

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  5. We have quite a bit of stuff from my partners family, his great grandmothers chair and some old wooden tool boxes, our boys treasure the wooden boxes and they use them for their own special things. I love your grandpa's painting esp, its very special to have those things. I come from NZ but have lived in the UK for 20 yrs now but don't really have any of those family type things from way back. My aunt died at Easter and i really treasure an opal necklace she left for me (my birthstone). I love the things that can be used, you get the old and then current day use too.

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    1. It sounds like you have some lovely special things in your house even if they are not from your own family.

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  6. I really enjoyed this post. I love seeing others' family heirlooms and special items. I don't have very many from my own family, unfortunately, but we have numerous things that have been handed down through my husband's family and we're both so happy and proud to have them.

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    1. They are and hope they will be for a long time to come.

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  8. I so enjoyed this post, thank you for sharing. Such wonderful memories. I have a few pieces in my home from generations past and every time I look at them a memory returns. I think it is a precious gift to have pieces of the past with us in the present.

    xo

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    1. It is a precious gift you are right. I do think our connections to the past are important as they give us a sense of who we are and where we have come from.

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  9. What a lovely post. Your grandfather sounds like a very talented man indeed. Memories merge and blend with time, but the important, special qualities or essence of those we love seem to linger on. Thanks for sharing this :)

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    1. Thank you Suzy you are right. It is the essence of my memories however blurred they are that stays with me and they are important too :)

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  10. What a lovely tribute to your grandfather a most enjoyable read - you are lucky to have his paintings and the music box to remember him by.

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  11. Yes...I have many of those objects in my home. I feel the presence of those I loved through them. You have written so beautifully about your grandfather and your family.

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    1. That's exactly what it is, there is a presence....not thought of it like that, thank you :)

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  12. Such a beautiful object - a real treasure xx

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    1. It is treasure, a special kind of treasure :)

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  13. Oh, this made me tear up a bit... the love with which you speak of your grand father reminded me of mine. And the story of your grand mother brought me back. My grand mother passsed on almst 3 years ago, many years after her love of 63 years passed and like yours, she was never quite the same.

    I have been gifted the plate setting my grand mother always put out when we were visiting. It is a huge set (16 places) and part of it is stored at my parents for lack of room here, but I use it every day. It is chipped and cracked in places, but filled with memories of uncles, aunts, cousins and laughter. My grand parents had 12 children. These 12 children have had 20 children. Those 20 have had (and are still having) over 30 and now some of those 30 are starting to have kids.

    You know, that box may live on after you pass on... not because of what it meant to you, but because of what you mean to others. :-)

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