Not for the first time this week, I’ve found myself what it would be like to be deprived of memories. I used to run a recruitment exercise for charity volunteers in which would-be recruits had to imagine what it would be like to lose the three things most dear to them. To make it a little harder, they weren’t allowed to choose a person or an animal. The idea was to put them in the position of people they might come across while volunteering for the charity, people who might have lost everything. I used to play along myself and the last, and dearest, loss was always my peace of mind. I can’t imagine living without peace of mind, facing a daily battle to get on with myself, let alone anyone else.
If I ran that exercise today, I think memories might find itself in a photo finish with peace of mind. I’m pretty sure the latter would still win by a short head, to keep the racing metaphor alive, but I’d be lost without my memories. Sometimes I wonder whether they’re too important to me, whether I should live more in the present and the future. Then I look at Mum, think of the many, many wonderfully happy times I’ve spent with her, and I know why I hold my memories so dear. And one of the reasons for that is that Mum simply has no memories or, perhaps more accurately, none that she is able to share these days. I take so much pleasure from times past and I hope with all my being that I don’t lose that ability to cast an eye backwards.
I’ve written before of how Mum’s diaries sustain me in darker moments. I can’t share our past with her anymore but I can take a glimpse of Mum in days gone by. These glimpses are often of days before I was born. Mum might well have been inspired by Samuel Pepys, such was her passion for recording the day-to-day events of her life when barely out of her teens. There are also delightful snapshots of life in the late 1950s. For instance on this day – March 5th – in 1959, there was great excitement in the Hadley household because my grandfather’s colour Christmas photos had arrived. Yes, a mere two months and ten days after 25th December. Sadly Mum doesn’t say whether my grandfather had chopped the heads off a family group or two.
A year earlier, Mum sadly reported that on March 5th 1958, West Brom had lost an FA Cup replay to Manchester United, a Manchester United still reeling from losing so much talent in the airport tragedy in Munich. Given that the West Brom of 2014 are playing today’s United on Saturday, I’m crossing everything that this isn’t an omen. That defeat in 1958 was put into perspective by a note that on March 5th Mum witnessed her first death. She was working as a radiographer at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and a little girl had died in front of her. I imagine Mum might have shed her tear.
Mum always had impressive powers of recall for names and faces. Today, she can’t remember what she had for lunch even before the plate has been cleared away. Me, I’ll continue to cling on to happy memories of Mum in her pomp, happily recalling memories of watching cricket as a schoolgirl, revealing details of meeting Dad at a party, of her taking control by sorting my life out when I failed to get the right A-Level grades to go to my chosen university. But I’ll also treasure the present – of the smile with which Mum greeted the opening bars of My Favourite Things when we sang it last week. You see, Mum couldn’t remember the last time I’d visited her – she might not even know my name unless prompted – but she could recall the “bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens”, not to mention the “snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes” as if she’d sung about them the previous day.
Thanks for that memory, Mum, and for so many, many more. Long might I continue to recall them.