Thursday, 25 August 2011

In memoriam

One of my more superficial Life List items is to have an office filled with knick knacks from our life adventures.  We have quite a few of these kinds of knick knacks already.  With the recent riots in our corner of London, we got to thinking about what we would grab if we only had a few seconds to evacuate.  I know we have all played this game: ‘if you could save 10 things from the fire…’ 
Except a few weeks ago, it wasn’t a game.  People had seconds to leave as their houses went up in flames and none of them were jumping into the waiting arms of the fireman carrying 10 items on their back.  I know I appeared to ignore the riots in this space.  I didn’t.  I just didn’t know what to say.  My thoughts were with the people that lost everything because of some bored kids. 
As we watched Croydon go up in flames, we seriously thought about what we would save.  It was incredibly hard.  We realized so many of our memories are preserved in the materials of our lives.  How do you decided which material-based memories to save?  We ended up getting very practical: business paperwork, passports, family documents, the laptops/hard drive.  Then we moved on to Pete’s wedding suit, my Grandmother’s dress (both of which are hanging on the living room door so we don’t have to dig through the overstuffed wardrobe in those precious moments).  I realized I would have to leave behind Monk, who has been with me since before I was born, all my research, all the mementos of our travels and adventures and our life together. 
But I guess, the point is you still have your life.  The materials may be lost, some irreplaceable, but the memories will remain, despite the destruction, hopefully.  We all have moments that we would prefer to forget and we have moments that we have forgot.  Let’s be honest, University was an experiment in memory retention and erasure. Some of us have legitimately lost memories due to accidents or disease. 
I have been thinking about memories a lot lately.  Partly because I just finished writing a book chapter about the flexibility of circus memory, but also because I am experiencing (from afar) a loved one losing their memory.  It is incredibly painful and sad to watch someone’s life story disappear.  The stories of their life preserved in a few snippets they passed on over dinners or coffee or long drives to campsites. 
Part of me loves the ephemeral-ness of memory.  The way it can shift and twist and rewrite itself.  But I also mourn the complete loss.  I love how a seemlessly innocent item can spark a string of seemingly unrelated memories.  I think almost every item in our home has a story connected to it, even the IKEA furniture is full of assembly/relationship stories.  Our couch alone could tell a day long tale…

Happy Shower Scene

Each of these items has a story.  Just out of frame to the right, is an aloe plant Pete bought while I was away with the circus.  He spent those 5/6 months working double shifts and making jumbo size vats of jambalaya for dinner.  But he also took great care of our house plants.  Before I left, we had purchased a Yucca plant.  Somehow we managed to drown it a bit and allow it to get over-run with aphids.  Pete was determined to save it and started trapping spiders and relocating them to the Yucca.  A bit unconventional perhaps, but all those nature programs must have taught him something because it recovered and was with us until February of this year when someone stole it when we were away on holiday.  The aloe plant just keeps getting bigger and bigger.  Then there is the orchid.  This was a gift from our friends who gamely attended my first Thanksgiving Dinner.  It sat in the living room until the flowers fell off and I accidentally over-watered it.  I threw it in the shower for a little visual interest.  Then, a few months ago it started budding again.  Apparently, the shower is a great place for foliage.   The little blue bird is a ceramic Pukeko from New Zealand named Polly.   She used to sit outside on the deck.  Then one of the neighbourhood cats attacked her and we found her in pieces below the deck.  Now she peeps at us in the shower.  The pile of shells and rocks are collected from a variety of locations: Makarska, Rhodes, Kerikeri, San Fran, Fiji, River Thames.
These aren’t earth-shattering memories.  But every day when I step in the shower, no matter how crappy I feel, I smile a bit at this hodge-podge collection of memories.  I begin to think about when we collected that purple shell or the stories Pete would tell me about the aphid battle when I was lonely and shivering in a motorhome in the middle of nowhere, Arkansas. 
These are precious, simple memories but the loss of them would be heartbreaking.  My thoughts go out to all the precious, simple memories lost in the flames of the riots. 


  1. Mmm. I love looking around our home and seeing all of the little bits from all over as well. I love getting practical things, and each time I use it, I'm reminded of specific places and memories that we've been together.

    On a practical note, we recently bought a smallish fireproof lockbox . . . so just in case of a fire, our important documents (passports, marriage certificate, DVD of our wedding photos), are all in one place for easy grabbing. I know it won't help with the bigger items, but it's something to think about!

  2. I find the freezer works well in place of a firebox. At one point I had a draft of my thesis on CD, wraped in cling film, in a zip-loc bag, in the freezer. Haven't thought to put the passports or wedding certificate in. Might say something about my priorities (or addled state of mind) at the time.