Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Memories and Photos

Memory is a strange thing. Some things we remember with great clarity; other things we don't remember at all. Sometimes a sight, a sound, a word, a bit of music, or a photo can trigger a memory, like opening a forgotten computer file. Suddenly there it is--a piece of life that has lain unremembered somewhere in the memory banks of the brain. I've read articles that attempt to describe the chemical processes of the brain that store and/or retrieve memories. It comes out sounding like an impossible thing; sometimes I think I'm better off not trying to understand the process, but to just accept the wonder of my human brain that can do such things!
Myself just a few months old

Memory is not always perfect. Get any two people together who witnessed or experienced the same event, and you may hear somewhat differing versions. Some people are more observant than others. And we tend to filter experiences through our own emotional responses, which differ from individual to individual. But, even with its imperfections, memory is an amazing thing.

I've been thinking a lot about memories because for months I've been working on photo albums and family history projects. I tell my family that my photo albums are how I remember my life, and there is a good deal of truth in that. I may remember a certain trip--but just when was that? The years seem to run together. My photo albums will tell me exactly when it happened (and I'm usually surprised to realize how long ago it happened--it seems so much more recent in my memory).

Here I am with muff and long
Have you ever wondered why we can't remember our own babyhood? So much happens in those first few years of life, why can't we remember them? Although I can't say I want to remember having to have my diapers changed, I would like to remember the thrill of learning to crawl, to take those first steps, or of being the recipient of all the tender love that babies inspire. I can only see baby days through photos. Some people say they can't remember anything before they were about four years old. My earliest memory goes back to before age two, but those early memories tend to be brief fragments.

I'm including a photo of myself at not quite two years of age. This picture triggers two memories. While I don't remember the occasion of the photo, I do remember some of the clothing. First, the muff. No one uses muffs these days, but muffs were actually a very practical way of keeping hands warm. Seeing the muff in this photo triggers a memory fragment of being downtown with my mother and having my hands in my muff. The other clothing, which is remembered very well, are the long stockings. I grew up before they made warm tights for little girls. We had long, light brown stockings held up with garters. When we reached school age my sisters and I hated those stockings. No one else had to wear them! Now, I admire our mother's good sense in protecting our little bare legs against the cold in days when little girls could not wear long pants to school.

Memory. Sometimes precious, sometimes painful, sometimes embarrassing, but so essential to our lives.

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