From the beginning, my mother encouraged our reading by giving us books for all the important childhood milestones – Christmas, birthdays and similar occasions. Among my first memories was my mother sitting on the edge of my bed reading one of the Golden Books so popular during the 1950s. My favourite was Scuffy the Tugboat who wouldn’t be restricted to the bath. That was followed by Tootle, the little train who refused stay on the tracks. There was something intriguing about the anarchic exuberance of Scuffy and Tootle the lessons of which have impressed me to this day.
There were also the many kids albums full of illustrations that publishers pumped out at Christmas time. As there were six of us, there was an abundance of books at all levels. I can’t forget the comics either. They appeared during times of sickness and long holiday trips. I devoured thousands of comics, spending my own money on them or swapping them with friends, besides their being liberally supplied by Mum. I had to be careful I didn’t take any to school, though. If spied, they would end up in pieces in the bin beside the heartless teacher’s desk.
I was happy with the kids albums and spent many a quiet time browsing through the pages, scanning the illustration and attempting to decipher the text. As my reading ability increased the level of the books increased – more text and less illustrations. I was never without reading material of some sort to distract and entertain me, but I delayed the transition to longer stories or what I hear called ‘chapter books’ these days. I received a number of longer hardcover books of mostly text before I turned ten years, but they didn’t engage me as much as the albums with their shorter stories. I had several goes at Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (a Christmas present) but did not persevere. The breakthrough came on my tenth birthday in 1956. I received a copy of Five on a Secret Trail.
It was all thrilling adventure with Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy trying to solve a mystery and deal with some dark, suspicious characters. I loved it. The story drew me on and on. But it wasn’t just the thrilling stories. The characters were just as important. For my ten-year-old mind they were clearly defined. They were brave, determined and acted always with honour and honesty.
I embarked on reading the full series. I read some of the Mystery series (The Find-Outers) and some of my younger sister’s Secret Sevens, but the Famous Five remained my favourites to the end of primary school.
Some years ago, in full nostalgia mode, I decided to collect the series of twenty-one titles. It took me a bit of time (and expense) but I now have them all on my bookshelf, each in good to very good condition.
My mind has always ranged back into the past. I have never stopped to wonder about this inclination or why it happens. I just seem to continually bring up associations of the present with past people and events, particularly with family and friends in sad or happy circumstances. My life-long best mate, Pete, also indulges in long reveries, especially about his childhood. I suppose he has more reason than most. He was a rubella baby. The problems with his eyes developed until he had lost his sight by the age of 21 years. Because his visual memory stopped in 1976, his reflections are to some extent dominated by that early period.
One of my sisters, Marie, also has a keen memory and needs little encouragement to reminisce about family occasions. Indeed, she has been of immeasurable assistance in the preparation for my family history series. She has a lucid memory of those things I think girls are more likely to notice than boys. She, as the first grandchild and a girl into the bargain, was my grandmother’s ( my mother’s mother) favourite and spent much time with her. She has been able to tell me a lot about my grandmother – her ways and her brittle temperament- that almost completely escaped me at the time. My other four siblings, in contrast, have little inclination to look back and thus have a fragmented memory of the years gone by. They appear to cast their minds back only when we get together and Marie and I begin reminiscing.
When I began my preparation in earnest for my family history series, I came to see that not everyone was in the habit of looking into the past. Indeed, it is a habit more than the occasional act of looking back. One’s mind is always in a way connected to the past. One’s consciousness is a panorama of one’s complete life. That is in contrast with someone whose mind is rooted in the present with an eye on the future. But with some, I have discovered, there is more than an unconscious barrier to looking back.
There are two negative reactions I sometimes come across to my ‘constant’ talk about the past. The first is an impatience that I live in the past whereas the healthy mind lives in the present and plans for the future. That, of course, is misconceiving the inclination. The second, much less often, is a suspicion that there is some sort of ulterior motive behind bringing past connections or past events. One person told me that ‘the past is a foreign country’. In other words, don’t go there. At the time I blissfully missed the point. When the warning became explicit, I did not have to be told again.
It just goes to show there are pitfalls in assuming that people think the same way as you, even about matters that seem innocent enough. Of course, that does not at all discourage me from indulging in long and frequent reminiscences. That’s what my family series is all about – reflecting on the good and bad of one’s life. There are lessons to be learned – apart from enjoying the pleasure of some memories.