Cricket’s Slice Of Life this week brings many emotions to the fore. She asked us to write about our earliest childhood memory. This ended up being quite a heartfelt one for me…..
It’s what separates the me I am now from the me I was –the passage of time. Sometimes I stand in the garden as night falls and gaze, thinking of the thousands of hours that have fallen into the cracks of my memory, most of them plummeting too deep to recall.
The camera holds such power. How can an object with no life force of its own hold a moment in time just as it was? We look right into the lens, laughing, crying, turning our heads with the surety of our existence, not contemplating for a moment that one day we will look at this image, this photograph, from our place in the future and possibly weep for what once was.
I have such a photo. It is a photo of my earliest memory. I am not sure if it is my earliest memory because I have the photo to trigger it or if the memory is strong enough to stand alone without the photo as stimulus. Either way, the photo and the memory are intertwined forever in my mind.
I was about two years old. My mother had dressed me in a pale lemon dress with a tiny broderie anglaise petticoat underneath. I had on the red leather lace-up shoes my Aunt Nellie had brought me back from France and had spent the morning infuriating my mother by repeatedly undoing the laces. Being only two years old, I couldn’t tie them back up again, so every five minutes or so my mother humphed and grumphed her way to tying them back up again, worried that with loose laces I might fall on my face which would never do because I was about to get my photo taken.
My grandmother had organized it. That’s her right there in the photo with me on her lap. She was a staunch, fierce woman; a matriarch in the true sense of the word. She was only five foot tall but has been one of the few people I have met in my life who could say: ‘If he messes with me, I’ll eat him for breakfast’ and mean it.
She called me her little doll. Or wee doll, being Scottish. I called her Doll- Gran. She had a jewellery box that played Somewhere My Love (the theme from Doctor Zhivago) when you lifted the lid. It was full of her necklaces and rings. I imagined she must be the richest woman in the world to own all those jewels, or that perhaps she was a Queen of a faraway land. She was wearing one of my favourites in the photo – her amber necklace. It was the colour of thick-cut marmalade and autumn leaves. Sometimes, if the light caught it just right, it was gold in the centre.
My Grandad is sitting next to her. A quiet gentleman who opened doors for ladies and took your arm as you crossed the road. Like so many men in Glasgow at the time, he worked down at the docks on the River Clyde. He used to tell me stories about boats headed for London or France filled with secret cargo. I remember how well-pressed his suit was, his Sunday best. Doll-Gran wouldn’t let him sit down before the photo was taken in case he creased it.
The photographer wanted to take my teddy away, but that teddy and I were joined at the hip. No one took Ted away from me. No one. So Ted – as my mother had expected all along – became memorialized in the photo.
Afterwards we sat in the park and ate vanilla ice cream cones with raspberry sauce topping. I disgraced myself by spilling a big blob of the crimson sauce on my yellow dress and untying my shoelaces again.
It’s difficult when you see a photo of yourself taken forty years ago to imagine that the young child in the image is in any way connected to you. There are shades of familiarity, nuances, iridescent, fleeting, but there is not the huge jolt of recognition you get when you look at yourself aged ten, sixteen, twenty, thirty.
It’s even more difficult to acknowledge that the people in the photo with you are gone, no longer present in this world, that you cannot turn around to them and say: ‘Remember that day when we got the photo taken and I wore my new red shoes?’ It seems wrong that they are gone and you are still here, a mere ten years younger than they were when the photo was taken.
Time. It’s hard on the heart. Sometimes it can seem like cruelty to bear the weight of it. It lets none of us slip through its silken grasp.
Once upon a time I was that little girl getting my photo taken with my grandparents, clutching my teddy bear. Once upon a time I was present, living in that moment, not just remembering it. Once upon a time I was safe, wrapped in the tenderness of their love. They are gone now, my dear Doll –Gran and Grandad, but as long as I can remember them, they will always be with me.