Recollections of youth (1)

My first real memory is a hazy one. I am lying on my back, and a dark-haired girl is waving tight plaits in front of my face. She is laughing, and I definitely like her. From there, it jumps to my first day at school. I am five years old, and my Mum is trying to get me to leave her side, to go off with a kindly lady teacher. I am afraid, though not crying, and I want Mum to stay with me. Low chairs, strange kids, and coat-hooks almost at ground level. There is a play-tent in the corner of the room, small desks fill the middle of the space, and it is all very quiet. For a while.

Not long after, we moved a short distance across the borough, and I had to go to a different school. I can recall most of what went on there, as by that time, I was almost seven years old. In between that first memory, and being able to remember almost everything since, there was a significant gap. Of course, I have never forgotten when I almost drowned; something I have written about previously. There are fleeting moments where I can clearly see my grandparents. My stern maternal grandfather, stroking an old black dog, sitting in front of a fire in the kitchen area. My grandmother, hands covered in flour, her body concealed under a huge apron. Childhood illnesses; feeling hot, covered in itchy spots, unable to sleep. Mum covering me in cold Calamine Lotion, supposed to soothe me, but making me cry out in shock from its freezing touch. I was bitten by a dog, as I tried to stroke it. It was lying asleep outside the shop of its owner, on a baking hot summer afternoon. I do not remember the pain of the bite, just the surprise that the animal was unfriendly, and the blood all over my hand.

The times that I was injured or hurt are still very fresh in my memory. Helping my Dad to wash the car one afternoon, he failed to see that my hand was in the door frame as he slammed it shut. If I think hard enough, I can bring back that moment of terror, looking at my trapped fingers, screaming with shock and pain. Out driving in the car with Mum and Dad, on the way back from a nice afternoon out somewhere. On a main road in Kent, we are involved in an accident with a large motorcycle. I can still hear the noise as he hit us, and my Mum’s scream. I could hardly see above the window, so the other details are unclear. My Dad was shouting though, and telling me to stay in the car. It is becoming obvious that pain and problems seem to take precedence where memory is concerned.

However, I have countless memories that do not involve either of these, so the last statement does not hold true. More to the point, why do I have these snapshots of memory? Why don’t I just remember it all, in great detail? That is the crux of the matter, and the whole point of this post. Where do the ‘other’ memories go? I wish that I knew. I want them all back, to retrieve them, as if on an accessible hard drive. This will have to become a series of posts, exploring the strange nature of memory: how it sometimes lets you down, and how it provides joy in recollection. I need to think about it. A lot.

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15 thoughts on “Recollections of youth (1)

  1. Lovely post Pete! It’s one of my favourite genres childhood memoirs – have you read Maxim Gorky ‘My Childhood’? Perhaps the memories that stay with us are the ones that help us through life, good or bad giving us better coping mechanisms for the good and not so good in life? Look forward to your explorations! Best wishes as always Jane x

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    1. I did read Gorky Jane, but it was almost fifty years ago now.
      I have always been interested about the process of memory, and whether we choose, or our brain decides. There will be more to come on this, I am sure.
      As always, Pete. x

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  2. Methinks a Memoir should be on the New Year list in the Beetleypete household. You have so much of your life already written in posts it shouldn’t be too hard to collate. I really enjoy your trips back to the past.

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  3. They are called declarative memories, those we can remember as true or false. Sometimes though, we choose to recall those pleasant memories that made us happy from way back. The events are vivid in our minds like they happened only yesterday. I remember a favorite dress when I was a kid, a printed sleeveless shift that had ribbons for trimmings. A long time ago, mom gave me a baby picture and that dress I was wearing was exactly my favorite dress. I asked mom how old I was when it was taken and she said, i was three. Amazing isn’t it how are brain retains one particular memory among thousand of experiences we had before.

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  4. What a brilliant beginning to a subject that I suspect will have no end. On, on with your recollections and if you find a secret way of recalling then decide whether or not to give it away.

    I was bitten by a dog in Southport, nearly lost an eye, a greyhound, rtd.

    Let’s all look for that hard disc deep inside.
    Lots of everything, R xx

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  5. One might take a hint from “À la recherche du temps perdu” (“Remembrance of Things Past” in English translation), a famous book by Marcel Proust. As Wikipedia states, “It is known both for its length and its theme of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the ‘episode of the madeleine.'” So you might try dipping a small shell-shaped sponge cake into your tea. Here’s a translated passage from the book as quoted elsewhere by Wikipedia:

    No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.

    Pete, I look forward to more recollections of youth. Is it tea time yet?

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    1. I read that book in French, and English, during my studies. (aged 17) You might recall that I used the title for a post on this blog in October. It is a memorable work indeed (pun intended) and a monumental task for the reader.
      Best wishes as always, Pete.

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  6. I’m truly amazed at the way memories play a part in my life, especially when they show up when re-working these past paintings. It certainly is an interesting subject but I haven’t a clue as to how Memory works or why it works the way it does. I do enjoy exploring these past memories and I hope you enjoy exploring your memories, too.

    It’s gray, chilly and getting ready to snow, here. Happy December! GG

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    1. Happy December to you too Gretchen.
      I have a feeling that these memory posts will go on to be a long series. I have lately become obsessed with the things that I cannot recall, and wondering why this is.
      Best wishes from England, Pete.

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      1. An unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates

        I’m thinking that remembering as much as we can and sharing our experience based on memory of past experience is something that gives our life value to others as well as ourselves. Or perhaps we’re at a stage in life when we have more to look back on and we realize the value of the experience that got us where we are and have a desire to examine our memories and share it with others. I’m getting the sense that you perhaps have a long series ahead of you, too!

        Some good news! I read an article recently about how people who write live longer and happier lives because of keeping their brain alive in the act of creating and remembering.

        Best! GG
        .

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