Saturday, 8 October 2011

Impermanence and the Persistence of Memory

In the late summer of 1980 my wife and I were on holiday with our three children, then aged 10, 8 and 7. We stayed with my wife’s widowed mother at her small farm in County Mayo in the west of Ireland.

            We had a spell of good weather, and for a few days the children and I got into the way of going down to the river that marked one of the boundaries of the farm. The water was low and it flowed gently as the stream meandered through the meadows. We gathered pebbles and larger stones and built castles in the shallow water. Fairy castles, goblin castles, castles for kings and queens and whatever. My wife and her mother came down to see what we were doing on the last fine evening before we returned to life and work in London.

            Christmas was approaching and my wife telephoned her mother to talk as they often did. Her mother told her, with a note of sadness in her voice, that after we had left with her grandchildren a few months previously that she had from time to time walked of an evening to the stream. ‘It was so lovely to see their little castles and to remember the children. But then we had a few days of heavy rain. The water rose and all the little castles were washed away’.

            Last weekend we had two of our grand-daughters come to stay with us. They are cousins, now aged 7 and 5. They don’t see each other very often as they live over two hundred miles apart. They get on very well together, the younger child, Imogen, being quite advanced and confident for her age. And so they had a grand time together, which included an outing with their grandma and grandpa to the Egg Theatre in Bath to see one of their lovely children’s productions.

            It was unusually fine weather on the Saturday afternoon, and the two girls were out in the garden. Kitty came in and asked “Grandma – can we pick some flowers please? We want to make a flower shop.’ It was getting towards the time when the garden was to be put to sleep for the winter and so yes, of course they could pick flowers.

            Within an hour they had adorned the garden seat with little bunches of geraniums and nasturtiums, each with its card showing the price. We took photos of them. Our hearts melted.

            The weather changed after they had left us, one to Taunton and the other to Chelmsford. My wife and I had not the heart of course to tidy away their little shop, and felt a sweet sorrow when the wind and rain scattered the little bouquets and cards as they must surely do.

            ‘Do you remember that autumn with your mother, when the children built their castles in the stream?’ I asked my wife.

            ‘I was just thinking of that’ she said quietly, and took my hand and held it tightly.

            We both of us were thinking how time can go by in an instant, while memories may never decay. When another 30 or so years have gone by, where, we wonder, might these little ones be placing their flowers then?


  1. A bitter sweet post. We have to get used to it, but it's hard.

  2. It appears that the older we get, time flies by at too rapid a pace, yet our past is still with us held in place by memories such as you recall with pleasure.

    A bittersweet story indeed, with its own beauty.

    Anna :o]

  3. Just shows we need to create as many happy memories as we can, ready for when they'll be most needed.

  4. What a lovely story! It's wonderful that you and your wife share so many beautiful memories.

  5. Time does fly. My wife died last year, as you may know, and we'd been together, inseparable, since we were 14 years old. That was approaching 60 years together. All those memories, yet the painful part is that the ones that won't go away are the most recent: her in hospital, at the end. Very difficult to erase, but it has to be done and, yes, some effort does bring the happy ones to the fore and of those there were so, so many.

  6. Hello John - thanks for your comment. Yes, I was aware that you had lost your wife. I am so sorry. It must be quite impossible to remember a time without her with you. I'm troubled to hear about the painful memories associated with her being in hospital at the end. I've seen so many people pass away in hospital, some with dignity and peace and a few, tragically, without. I was privileged to visit some of my patients in St Christopher's Hospice in south London where the care was pretty much without exception quite amazing.
    My wife, Agnes, and I have been together for over 40 years. We are blessed with good health but see from the experiences of family and friends of our own generation that things can happen quite suddenly. We are in the process of re-drafting our will and making our wishes known to our three grown children. They will be our executors and one of them the "lead" executor. I'm getting together with her to let her know where everything is so that things will be as straightforward as possible for them when we go.
    I've just finished a 1700 word short story where the main character is ending his days in a hospice. It might surprise you to hear that it is a love story. I am pleased with it, and will publish it on this blog in a few weeks. Not yet, as it has been entered for a competition.
    All best wishes