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Memory – I Can Smile At The Old Days

May 2, 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot about memory this week. Not memories as such but the way in which mine and Steven’s memory works.

About a year ago I joined a Facebook group that is a homage to the town I grew up in, spent the first 20 years of my life there. It’s mainly people posting old photos of places and being wistful. On Monday, a photo appeared of about 16 people from my year group at school. The photo is probably from 1970/71. Lots of people from that year group have been commenting on the post. I have too. But as the week has gone on I’ve been thinking more and more about the nature of my memory. The faces were mostly familiar but I couldn’t name more than 2 people in the photo (and if truth be told, they were probably guesses). I remembered most of the names. In fact, I’m sure I remembered people’s names even before seeing the picture. But If you were to give me a name, say, Diane Seale, I’m not sure what I see. I don’t see a clear face, I don’t even see a face at all but I do have some sort of picture of Diane Seals in my head. Or is it in my head? Where else could that image be located? My mum died in 1976 when I was 16. I have loads of photos of her. But sitting on the sofa right now, I can’t see her actual face. I can’t hear her voice, although I remember lots of our conversations. I can’t smell her, although there is an aroma around my image.

I compare that to Steven. Yesterday he sent me off to work with the following memory:

“Dad. Auntie Jayne brought Mummy Julie a pink nightie on Christmas day next Saturday morning when Steven Neary was in David Watson’s class with Sefton Hemmingway”.

From the last bit of detail, I could work out that Steven was talking about 2003. He remembers that Christmas day fell on a Saturday. He remembers a present that wasn’t for him but for his mum. And most markers of time for him are the class he was in at school. I wonder if Steven’s memory is pictorial. 12 years is shorter in time to preserve the picture than the 45 years have been for me. And if it is pictorial, what was he seeing when he related that memory to me. If its not pictorial, how does Steven store a memory. He has hundreds, with the same detail as above, that go back much further than 2003. One of his favorites comes from 1992, when he was 2, and sitting on his birthe father’s lap. His father was wearing brown trousers, Steven was eating some Skips and they were listening to Jimmy Nail singing Ain’t No Doubt. It was a Wednesday afternoon. I’d love to know how that memory is stored.

As he gets older, some of these stored memories can cause Steven physical pain. He can spend an hour relating a whole collection of related stories. They are incredibly detailed. He often has a headache by the end of it. I get a bit concerned for the future. With such dense detail to all his memories, surely at some point his storage system will become tremendously overloaded. How will he cope with that? Or perhaps his system will go the same way as my system. But I doubt that. We’re wired very differently.

In the meantime, I’m left with my fuzzy, non pictorial pictures and Steven continues to load his endless hard drive.

From → Social Care

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