Friday, 25 July 2014
Memories are made of...what?
There is a large farmhouse in a small hamlet in Northumberland where my family used to stay when I was a child. Actually, we did not stay in the house but either in a run down caravan in the garden or latterly in some holiday cottages in the farmyard.
A few years ago, when I started to go on holiday to the area with my own children, I decided to drive up and see the house that I remembered. It seemed, as we drove, to be much further away from the main road than I remembered but we kept going. As we rounded a bend, my husband was just starting to say "will you know it..." when I saw it. Yes! That's it! And how did I know? Well, topiary animals were all cut into the very high hedges!
If anyone had asked me "have you ever stayed somewhere with topiary animals outside?", I would have denied all knowledge. I honestly did not remember until I clapped eyes on the house. And as an experiment, I sent an untitled picture of the house to my brother. His wife said "where on earth is that?" and without blinking, he answered "Mrs Murray's house" - again, not having previously remembered about the topiary!
So my question from this, looking at my family tree, is how many of the people on my tree, just two generations back, did I meet as a child? And would I remember them if I was able to see them again? I know for sure that I met two of my great grandmothers. I also must have met most of my grandparents' siblings.
Of course, most religions hold that we will see our loved ones again some time and I didn't write this post to start a religious debate. Each to their own and leave it at that. I just wish that I could remember some of the people about whom I am now writing and researching.
My Anglo-Indian grandfather had a cousin of whom he was very fond, surname Westerling. When looking at the family tree, I can see that there are a number of reasons why the Westerlings were a strong connection, not least the coming to the UK when most of Grandad's family went to New Zealand. We used to spend weekends with the extended family. When my grandfather died, a number of that family came to the funeral. I could not have told you how long it was since I saw them but I was able to introduce every one to my husband without thinking "who are you".... How do our memories do this? Such connections seem to me to be very visually based. The sight of someone or something activates your memory.
The shame of this is that I cannot remember my great grandmothers or the others as I sit here now. It would be nice, wouldn't it, to be able to reach into the depths of one's memory at will, rather than needing these external stimulus?
Of course, a life of balancing family arrangements and needs does tend to sap your memory powers to say the least. Mine, certainly, have taken a battering...