Making the most of a new life

Fading Memories I


Something happened this week that momentarily gave me quite a jolt, knocking me off balance for just a split second. This occurred while talking to Jake at the breakfast table. In between my exhortations to “please eat your breakfast otherwise we will be late for school” we somehow got talking about something, I cannot even remember what it was now, that required me to think of what I did at his age. My memory failed me at that moment and I could not recall that particular time in my own life at all.

I think that I have already forgotten about what we talked about because, like a bolt from the blue, I realised that if I cannot remember something about my childhood then, as an only child with both my parents now deceased, there is a good chance that that memory is now lost forever; unless the one cousin with whom I am still in touch can remember. As you can imagine the realisation of this was quite a revelation to me, and for a moment it made me feel quite alone. Not alone in my present, but alone in my past.

I have written before about the importance of such as photographs in helping us with our memories (and re-reading that particular post reminded me that I originally intended to have more photographs on this blog), and that this probably equates to around ten per year of me in our family albums. Not something that I can re-construct a whole childhood from. Not something that is reliable because there has been an editing process in taking and choosing those pictures.

So while I can remember my first unaided bike ride, my memories are passed through all sorts of filters and I have no way of corroborating whether my memories match what happened. In this particular instance maybe it does not matter how accurate those memories are since when I have them I get a warm feeling of my own achievement and sharing a moment with my father; a moment that I only now begin to understand from his perspective (but in the last couple of weeks I would have loved to know what his perspective was).

Perhaps it does not matter in this case, but I think that the source of my anxiety at that moment was that there are going to be plenty of times in the future when the boys experience something that I am going to have no idea whether and/ or how I went through a particular episode or rite of passage. It makes me sad that I will not be able to remember, and it makes me sad that I will not be able to share my own past with them as fully as I would have liked.

So circumstances, the fact that we moved around quite a bit when I was young and issues with more distant family members, mean that I will probably have to ride this out until I get to my teenage years (I still have good friends from those times onwards). I will have to rely largely on my own memories, and hope that things come back to me as I have similar experiences with the boys in the knowledge that I have no one to corroborate them.

This, coupled with the recent sudden death of a friend I had largely lost touch with, again reminds me of the need to maintain a good circle of people not only for the present, but for the past as well.


While I was writing this piece Sam came into my office and started looking at the photographs of the family I have around the place. Two things happened that seemed relevant to what I was writing. First he looked at pictures of Jake when he was younger and took some convincing that they were not him, and second he took umbrage that he was not in one particular picture of Karen, Jake and me. I tried to explain that he was not then born but he did not understand that there was a time when he was not part of the family. I thought that both instances were examples of how easily photographs can be taken out of context and given new meanings. The problem of fading memories.

7 thoughts on “Fading Memories I

  1. Hi Simon.
    As you may know, following the death of my mother late last year, I and my brothers are faced with almost the opposite situation i.e. too many memories! There is almost nothing we can’t find out about our distant childhoods by delving into my mother’s detailed day-by-day diaries and associated notes and documents, along with virtually every letter she received and wrote, that she kept and carefully archived for c. 70 years. We also have the photographs, most with ‘who, where and when’ written on the back.

    It’s all wonderful and completely overwhelming. I’m still not sure which is preferable….the emotional resonances of (possibly false) memories, or the actualité…filtered through my mother’s writings.


    • Hi Paul

      That’s an interesting one. From my perspective I think that too much would be better than too little. For me although it was a jolt that I have no one to help me with my childhood memories (and there was another situation just this morning when I wanted to know how I did a particular think), I think not knowing the minutiae pales into insignificance compared with my own broader memories of having a happy childhood.



  2. I’ve increasingly had thoughts along similar lines recently. My parents are both in their mid-70s and increasingly looking obviously elderly, and there’s one topic in particular I’ve wanted to broach with my mum for a few years which has always been taboo in the family because of some deep emotional scars. It’s a memory that pre-dates what I can remember properly (I was only just three at the time) but which I would dearly love to embrace.

    Memories are precious things. It was one of the reasons I started blogging about my family in the first place, to capture both the momentous and the monotonous. My kids may never read what I have written about them – but it will always be there for them if they want it, even after my own recollections have started to blur.

    • Hi Tim

      Thanks for this. Yes, don’t take your parents for granted. It’s easy to say parents’ memories are rose-tinted, but really that for me is better than if they were not there at all. It is interesting because I didn’t start writing the blog so I could help them remember, but I now realise that it is an important potential resource for them.

      Best wishes


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