of place and memory

the tire swing

Memory works in mysterious ways. We can’t remember what we ate for breakfast yesterday, but we can remember who hit the final home run for the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1992 World Series*. I occasionally forget my phone number, but I have never forgotten the phone number sung by Stompin’ Tom Connors in the radio ad for PEI++. Childhood memories are the strongest of all.

I’ve been thinking about memory lately because I’m helping my dad with his memoirs, which he would like to have published in some form. The most interesting part of his life story (in my opinion) is the period between school and marriage, when he had many adventures and met the love of his life. But in order to get to this story, a good third of what he has written is about his childhood — home and family, boats and cows, fishing and stamp collecting, school teachers and neighbours. The sights and smells of those early days are still so fresh to him, but more recent years run into each other, their details blurred.

And it’s not just the debilitation that comes with age, because I’ve begun to realize my memories are the same. The memory of hurts and high points from my youngest years are stronger than those in more recent times. I can walk around my parents’ back yard and say with absolute certainty: here is where I fell and cut my hand on the broken bottles; here is where I found Trixie; here is where my dad hung the swing; here is where I hid and cried for my mother to find me. Whatever happens between age 6 and 16 is written in stone; anything after that is malleable, edited or erased by the passage of time.

*Joe Carter
++ “eight-double-zero, five six five, seven four two one…”

Photo taken on November 1, 2010


4 thoughts on “of place and memory

  1. Our memory can be a wonderful thing, but sometimes intriguing. Why do I remember phone numbers to companies in Germany and London, UK from the 70’s, when I will with all certainty never call them again?! Sometimes I think of my memory as the HD on my computer, and would like to clean out lots of temporary files. There are a lot of files that should be erased too, but I’m unable to.

    What a wonderful thing that your dad is writing his memoirs. I so wish my mum had done that, or my uncle. They’re all gone now, and there’s noone to ask about stuff.

    • That’s an interesting comparison of memory to a hard drive, Rebekah. It reminds me of an interview I heard on CBC radio, where someone was saying that the problem with computers is that they don’t forget — his point was that forgetting is a gift, a way of helping us keep what is important and let the rest blow away like chaff…

      It’s sad to hear there’s no one left who keeps your family history; maybe someone in the next generation will be the keeper of memory, and you will be the one to tell what you remember!

  2. My memory is shocking. Like your dad, I can remember things from childhood but have no memory of some of the things I’ve done in recent years. I am finding that if there’s no photo of the event, it’s as though it never occurred.

    It is worrying because I’m only 31 years old. And it’s frustrating because my partner knows that I have lost the memories of some of the precious experiences we’ve shared.

    So now I take lots of photos. Most days I take a picture of something or of a moment so that it doesn’t go missing.

    Wonder whether I should see someone about my poor memory …

    • I wonder sometimes whether we forget as much as we think we do, Herby. After all, if we were conscious, whatever happened would be stored in our brain somewhere… although maybe it would take a hypnotist to find it! At any rate, I definitely agree with you about the photos, especially when it comes to holidays, they are priceless for helping me remember and enjoy the experience all over again.

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