At the moment I’m childminding my 8 year-old grandson for the week and loving every minute of it. He’s enjoying our time together too and when I asked him if he’d had a good day his reply was
‘If I had a pound for every good time with you I’d be the king of Mexico’.
It doesn’t get better than that. Hopefully the time we spend together will live on long after I’m gone and be the source of stories for his own children and grandchildren, as my childhood has been for me.
My grandparents were much more distant, less ‘hands-on’ than those of today. My paternal grandfather, however,was different. He took me out to his allotment, letting me ride on the pedals of his bike while he pushed it and he walked miles to find me hairy caterpillars that he brought home in matchboxes and fed them with lettuce leaves. I felt loved and safe with him. Unfortunately he died when I was five so I didn’t have the time with him to store up memories, but the ones I have are very precious. Writing this nearly 60 years after his death I can still feel the emotions choking me and the sadness that never left, or has never been dealt with. And the memories, too, are very vivid.
Inside his shed were lots of cobwebs, piles of empty pots, gardening tools and butterflies. I was always in awe of the shed and the life that hatched in the dark. Opening the door I was never sure what would fly out and whilst there was a fear and dread about it, it was thrilling and spectacular at the same time. Which is probably why I enjoy films and books that have suspense, dread, fear and exhiliration and why I feel memory is so important as it accesses those emotions at a subconscious level.
In my novel In Desolate Corners, Shadows Crouch (plug: available on Amazon) the central character, Grace, is sectioned.
Time here is a slow, steady drip of minutes. Sometimes they sparkle, like dew on morning cobwebs, at others they’re like a bottomless dark lake. It starts off simply enough, slow and shallow, but drip by drip it ends up deep. And the worse thing is that you have no control over what breaks free and rises to the surface…
Memories can shock you, coming unbidden to the surface. I remember once I was struggling with the computer, trying to learn how to use it. My son was revising for his GCSE exams in another room and I shouted through for him to help me. His dad and I had been divorced for about ten years and my son was starting to exert his masculinity in a house full of women. He muttered ‘Bloody stupid woman,’ a favourite phrase of his dad’s, and I freaked out. All the emotions I thought I’d dealt with suddenly surfaced and I was back in that relationship where I felt stupid and worthless.
You hear, smell and feel life going on around you but it’s all mixed up with other things. You pull up one memory and lots of others are attached, brushing your face with their wings. Ones you didn’t want. Ones you didn’t bargain for. So you try to come back to the room, to get away from the memories, to reach out, grab the voices and shake the silence off your back. But they’re behind frosted glass and you’re pinned down, hands and arms at your side.
Yet other memories can sustain you through the bad times. I’ve recently been ill and unable to do much of anything except look out of windows or watch TV. It was a difficult time, but what it allowed me to do was reflect on my life and think. And I didn’t think of the darkness, I thought of all the things that gave me a reason for carrying on and fighting to get well—the feel of little arms round my neck and soft breath on my face saying ‘I love you grandma’, small hands in mine and little faces looking up at me, trusting me to take them safely across the road, to dispel nightmares, to know the right thing to do.
At the end of the book Grace says:
Memory is a strange thing. Sometimes a smell, a sound, a touch can catapult me back to the shifting, sighing dark where images and emotions are inseperable and are carved by rusty nails on my imagination. Yet at other times, I struggle to recall faces, days, events. Each day is a gift, whatever it contains, and gradually my days are filling more and more with the slow rhythms of the world and I stretch my fingers to attach myself, to become a part of all that is. It’s hard, but I’m alive, in all senses of the word.
Here’s to life, living and the power of memory to sustain us.