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.