The dining room had the only table in the house so became the centre of the home. There we ate our meals, entertain guests, did our homework, and my mother, who was a dressmaker, made wedding dresses to order. I remember the old leadlight dresser that held our china and cutlery, the ice chest, which kept our food chilled before refrigeration and the gaslight on the wall, which we lit during blackouts that came with monotonous regularity.
The only heating in the house was a gas fire, with ceramic candles that glowed red when they were heated. In winter I volunteered to make the toast each morning, holding the bread on the toasting fork in front of the fire so I could get warm. Sometimes we’d toast crumpets which we ate dripping with butter and honey. On cold winter evenings we often toasted raisin bread for supper and on special occasions we had toasted marshmallows with hot chocolate.
Oh the memories that old fork rekindled … the warmth of the fire, the chatter and laughter around the table and even the taste of toasted thickly sliced bread, which the baker had deliver that day, with lashings of homemade jam or honey.
Triggers to memory come in all shapes and sizes but they are usually associated with our senses. In 2007, my cousin and I had a week in a villa just south of Florence, in Tuscany. Set on a hill, the villa looked out across olive groves, vineyards and the lush Tuscan countryside with almost 360-degree vistas. The rooms were spacious with high ceilings and rich, vibrant colours on the walls and furnishings. We ate in a courtyard surrounded by pots of brilliant red geraniums and grape vine draped arbors.
Now whenever I use the special soap I used on that trip, the fragrance brings back memories of the villa, the fun times I had with my cousin, the sights, the tastes and the colours of Tuscany. Smell is the most powerful of all triggers evidently because we have at least 1,000 different types of smell receptors but only four types of light sensors and about four types of receptors for touch.
I was staying with friends last Sunday and went with them to their historic, stone country church. The organ was very old but the organist had a magic touch. I was transported by the music and after the service I went to thank him. Before I could utter a word, I burst into tears, to my surprise, and his. Then I heard myself saying, “You remind me of my father, he was a pianist and organist and played with the same style, passion and sensitivity as you”. Hearing that music brought my father to ‘life’ again for me and I was overwhelmed by the memories.
What a complex and wonderful thing memory is. It connects our past with our present and provides the road map of our life. Oscar Wilde says, “Memory is the diary we all carry with us.” It's the diary we write everyday; the sum total of the pain and the richness of life, stitched together into the fabric of our existence.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits!” Psalm 103:2