“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” George Orwell
Our reality is likely different than those we grew up or lived life with. It is because of these differences in perception that Living Memorials are trending. People should get the chance to tell and record their life story the way they remember it.
Research on memory has discovered that the only true memories are hidden in comatose persons. If memories are not spoken of, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Instead significant memories may be buried – and locked in a sort of brain vault. If they have been in this deeply buried space, they remain pure in detail.
But most of us have shared our stories throughout our life. While we are getting our shut-eye, our brains decide which new information to keep and which to discard. Depending on our age, health and the weight of the experience, much of what we experienced and learned will easily be recalled for years.
Memory studies also acknowledge that not only the facts of an incident are deposited into our memory bank, but also the feelings we had about the incident as well as what we sensed at the time. Those who lived through war time never forget the warning sirens while those who were in combat forever remember the sounds of bombs and guns. These sort of sensory experiences are often the strongest and most lingering memories instead of the factual details.
When I look back on my childhood memories I first recollect the smells, light, weather, shapes, sounds and tastes. Because of our individualized reactions to stimuli each of our memories will be somewhat different.
Instead of remembering exactly what I found in my Grandmother’s attic, I first remember how light flickered through one small window. Outside wooden stairs, creeping up the back of the salt box house, creaked with each foot fall. A worn padlock half threaded through a failing latch was easy to remove. Inside, a dim light bulb dangled from a somewhat shredded black cord that plugged into a rigged outlet in the ceiling. Grandma’s attic stored many old chests, trunks, dolls and bedding where a musty odor wafted in the air as dust mites quivered in the refracted rays from that bug spattered small window. Cobwebs crept like delicate lace crocheted from the corners of this rectangular room with it’s steeply pitched ceiling, open rafters and bare boarded walls where a silver breeze slipped through. I liked feeling something beyond the confines of my young self but I did not know what that was?
I liked quiet- natural sounds and smells as a child. I still find solace in soft breezes, cricket songs, frogs courting, the fall of water or rain, bird songs and the nearly silent tread of deer in the forest and swift squirrels rushing through fallen leaves between trees.
Looking back I believe it was in these quiet spaces that my imagination was fertilized. I remember piles of quilts on the round iron framed beds but I don’t have a clear picture of their patterns or colors. I know I liked rummaging through the trunks, for what I don’t recall. I kind of remember waking up beneath a deep pile of quilts and feather ticks, with a cold nose, fingers and toes. Even in summer, freezing temperatures were not uncommon in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I made sure I went to the out-house before the sun went down because the path to it was scary and cold as the spooky shadows of night settled in.
Grandma & Grandpa did not have running water or indoor plumbing. The iron pump, about the size of a neighborhood fire hydrant was faded red and required priming until the water no longer came out rusty. I liked pumping water into tin buckets that we warmed on the wood stove, several at a time to get enough to pour into the round galvanized tub, The tub balanced on the seats of four oak chairs faced together in the kitchen. Quilts nailed and hung in the walk through doorways between the kitchen, the living room and a couple of bedroom doorways were pulled shut.
I had helped lug in a load of pine logs for that cookstove and earlier that day helped Grandma peel apples for a pie. The delicious smell of cinnamon and sweetness baking mingled with pine in the air, as all of us kids bathed in the kitchen.
If this was a daily routine, my memories wouldn’t be so vivid. But it was extraordinary, novel, consequently infused deeply into the memory of my senses. I’m glad I haven’t spoken much of this because this memory is still fresh as a young child’s heart.