All Aboard the Trigger Train!
… the memory trigger train, that is. I love how small things can trigger a cascade of memories; I enjoy writing about them and I use some well-known creative writing devices. Firstly, there is the who, what, when, where, why? trick beloved of story-tellers, and then there is always the option to consider writing about the five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch which combine to produce interesting observations.
The Devon lanes are full of primroses at the moment. Round every bend and on each corner, these cheerful, resilient little yellow blooms shine in the sunlight. Their presence triggers a strong recollection for me. My late parents moved from Surrey to Cornwall on retirement and we often came down to visit. One day, dad and I were in his car and he pointed to the kerbside “Look”, he said, “all those primroses! The first of them bloom, just where the sun strikes!” Dad’s love of the simple pleasures in the changing seasons is definitely part of his legacy to me. I always think of him when I see the first primroses, and I look carefully to establish if they are indeed, ‘just where the sun strikes’.
This week, it is my brother Peter’s birthday, on 29 April. He would have been 69, having passed away in 2017. It’s true to say my memories of him are mixed, as he was a complex character and there were long spells when we weren’t in touch. But latterly, and particularly since Shaun and I moved to Devon, we were able to enjoy each other’s company. It was the first time as adults that we had lived in the same county and could meet up easily, Peter living around an hour away in Torquay. Peter loved the sea and he often reminisced about Slapton Sands and Torcross in Devon, where we stayed as children. I remember much about those times too; for instance, the time he and dad went mackerel fishing and we ate the catch for lunch, prepared by the owner of the B and B where we stayed. We spent happy hours paddling and bathing in the chilly sea off the pebbly beach and I remember the slightly sandy crunch of our ham sandwiches. Even now, if I make up a flask of coffee to take on an outing, the smell as I unscrew the lid instantly transports me back to mum’s picnics on the beach at Torcross, and in other places. In those days, motorway services were few and far between and dad often used to park up near a field so we could gaze out over the countryside as we ate a packed lunch, on our travels to the west country.
In recent times, Peter used to take himself to Torcross on his birthday, walking along the beach and enjoying fish and chips or a cream tea sitting in the sunshine, overlooking the sea. Perhaps his strongest memory lure however, was far away in Israel. In his final weeks, Peter became utterly determined that he would take his son, my nephew Ben, all the way to Israel; where he had lived on a Kibbutz when he himself was young. Despite many difficulties of logistics and Peter’s rapidly failing health, Ben managed to get them both there, somehow. I know that, traumatic though the trip was, Ben is glad that he fulfilled his dad’s dying wish to share with him some time in the place he loved. Father and son made some new, albeit very poignant, memories. Peter died just a few days after their return.
On a happier note, after a recent chat with Stella about memories of her dad, I have started to compile a document that represents my life, so far. This is proving fun to do! I started by writing down some key dates and as I began to write about my childhood, half forgotten experiences began to stand out in sharp relief and the more I remember, the more details emerge. The wonders of Google allow me to revisit former addresses with relative ease and the visual prompts, along with old photographs, are populating the document.
I think that writing a personal history is incredibly important. Now that my parents and brother are gone, plus other family members, there is no one I can ask to fill in some of the gaps in my history. Everyone’s memories shape and round us out, and whether they are happy, sad, funny or tragic, they are always worth passing on to the next generation.
I cannot of course write about memories, without mentioning James. My memories of him remain clear, bright and untarnished by the passage of time. And of course I have written much about him and will continue to do so; but it still delights me when anyone who knew him, shares with me something he said or did, a photo or an anecdote. These nuggets of information are like little gifts from the past, to hold into our future.
The memory train travels from station to station throughout our whole lives. Its passengers number our family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, and those whom we perhaps didn’t meet, but who impacted on our lives in some way.
The pot pourri of emotions that comes with exploring our memories is full of spice, flavour and colour – and can be whatever we wish it to be.
Climb aboard, ticket in hand! Take a seat, close your eyes and let your mind take you along whatever tracks it wants to follow, on your own memory train journey.