I have had a few experiences recently that have completely caught me off guard. The result being that I am now challenging myself and questioning my recall of some very significant memories.
On Monday evening, as usual, I was driving my son to football training. I parked the car, switched off the engine and looked back at him through the rear-view mirror. Very unexpectedly, I was intoxicated by an incredibly powerful memory of arriving home when he was a toddler. Similarly, I gazed back at him to discover, to my delight, that he was grinning broadly and enthusiastically signing, ‘Home’. This was the start of a very special stage in our relationship. We had a secret language. As it turned out, Charlie was a late talker, however that did not matter, because we had a unique way of communicating with each other. As you might expect, the signs for ‘cake’ and ‘more’ were used frequently and became firm favourites!
The reason this memory took me by surprise was that it was such a wonderfully positive reminiscence and I have been on cloud nine ever since. The strange thing is that my overall impression, when I think of that period of my life, is one of sadness. I strongly remember feeling utterly and totally out of control. I was a mix of conflicting emotions because as well as bringing up a newborn, I was also grieving, as my mum had just died.
This recent, rather pleasant, ‘kick in the guts’ showed me that actually it was not all bad. Yes, I was grieving. Yes, I was exhausted. I had a very inquisitive son that enjoyed climbing into washing machines, exploring around wheelie bins and running like a maniac whenever there was an open space. However, I have had a stark reminder that it was also a happy and exciting time as I watched this tiny creature learning about the interesting world around him.
Another incident that made me question myself was on March 3rd, Mum’s birthday, when I had a chance to watch a video clip of her that had been shared on Facebook. It made me feel quite uncomfortable and overwhelmed me so much that I had to switch it off. Although I knew the person talking in front of me was Mum – her voice was all-wrong. She was speaking in well practised plummy tones with a very polished and refined accent. Was this the voice she put on for TV appearances and for special occassions? Or perhaps, I find myself thinking, it was actually her real voice. Have I forgotten what she sounded like, and replaced it with a ‘false memory’ of how I would have liked her to speak?
I know that, at one point, there was most definitely plenty of money splashing about. My grandmother’s family, the Macnamaras, owned a grand house in County Clare, Ireland and had a pretty comfortable way of life. Though by the time Dylan was associated with them they were living in relative poverty. In a letter to his friend Vernon Watkins, he described the conditions of the home in Hampshire where Caitlin’s mother Yvonne, and her older sister Brigit, lived. Dylan stated, “It’s almost too cold to hold a pen this morning. I’ve lost a toe since breakfast; my nose is on its last nostril. I’ve four sweaters on (including yours), two pairs of trousers and socks, a leather coat and a dressing-gown.” My memories of visiting my great aunt Brigit in the New Forest would be consistent with this as she had very basic style of living.
Having said that, if I rack my brain hard enough, there were hints during my childhood that Mum’s family were used to finer things. For example, before going to great aunt Brigit’s house, Mum was adamant that I get rid of my cockney “Fank Yous” and “I fink” and to put on my ‘posh voice’. I also clearly remember Brigit telling me off for crossing my knife and fork as she considered it ‘common’ behaviour.
However, despite Brigit’s insistence that we display appropriate etiquette, everyone was welcomed into her home that (in my memory) was always jam-packed with animals, children and books. My dad, in particular, remembers her kindness because it was in complete contrast to other members of Mum’s extended family. As an ex-miner from Pontypridd, he had received some harsh treatment from them, and, more often than not, they were rather condescending and dismissive towards him.
As I have been writing this blog, it is making me realise that I have a tendency to revisit my younger self and judge her quite harshly. I am embarrassed by her naive teenage behaviour, cross that she did not work harder at university, and cringe when I remember the first lessons she taught as an inexperienced teacher – how I wish I could go back and guide her. My dad, in comparison, has an incredible ability to remember events rather differently to me and nostalgically harks back to days gone by. His, what I consider to be, ‘made-up’ memories have frustrated me, but I now wonder whether I have been too cynical and actually my memories, of the same events, are not entirely accurate. Maybe I have not recognised the positives that he has seen.
I think I should also learn from my mum. She had a wonderful knack of living for the moment. It was probably because she had a chronic illness that she knew would shorten her life. I imagine never knowing when your last day could be makes you look differently at things and affects the choices you make. Like her, I think I should appreciate what is directly in front of me, and to not worry about what has already happened or what might happen.
Hannah Ellis – 13th March 2017.
Hannah is a teacher, writer and consultant. You can learn more about her by visiting the website – www.hannahellisconsultancy.com