Even if we live to be a hundred, the first twenty five years are ‘the longest half’ of our lives. They appear so while they are passing; they seem to have been so as we look back on them; and they take up more room in our memories than all the years that succeed them.
paraphrased from a quote by Robert Southey, English Romantic Poet
Southey (1774 – 1843) was born in Wine Street, Bristol. He was expelled from school for writing an article in The Flagellant condemning flogging. He went to Oxford, of which he later said, “All I learnt was a little swimming and a little boating.” A good start, then, but as he grew older he ‘sold out for money and respectability’, proving his own saying that the first twenty five years are your best.
I hardly ever carried a camera back when I was beautiful and had just the one chin. “I’m video’ing it in my head” I would say.
Of course now I’m really grateful other people carried cameras and I could get pics from them. Even in the days when you loaded a roll of film in the dark and wound it on by hand frame-by-frame some people carried cameras. I salute them!
And I admit I would grumble when they said “Stand closer together” “Smile” “Hang on! Just one more!”. Of course some people would think they had put in the roll of film when they hadn’t and all our posing (“poeseer!” remember SanMarie the game ranger’s joke?) was in vain. Yes, I’m thinking of you Taylor. He posed us in various ways on a buffalo carcase and when we eagerly asked for the photies weeks later (they’d had to go off “for development” of course) he had to sheepishly admit he hadn’t had a roll of film in his steam-driven camera. Luckily Trish had been there and took this:
Anyway, my memory of that moment was much better than his pic would have been: I remember a bloody carcase with glistening red meat still on the bone and lion prints around the sandy scene. We were posing looking over our shoulder, worried the lions might chase us off their prey at any minute. When later we did get a pic from someone better organised than Taylor – Trish – the truth was far more mundane. The photo spoilt a good story! Here we were, not one of us looking over a shoulder:
So although I do have some slight regrets I still think I was generally more “in the moment” than many camera-occupied companions over the years – and I saw more birds. Anyway, my memories of what happened are usually far better than boring reality. Usually I play the starring role in them.
Once I met Aitch things changed of course and we had a fulltime photographer in the house. The years from 1986 are well documented. Then the kids arrived and the number of pics went through the roof. Thank goodness for digital! Even now when we drive through a game reserve Jess will say “Mom would have said ‘Stop! Go back!’ and you would have to reverse and she’d take a picture of a flower, remember?”
With cameras as ubiquitous as they now are all this smacks of days gone by. I was prompted to write this post when I read this yesterday: ‘If a millennial goes to a beautiful place but doesn’t get a photo, did they ever really go?’…
To end, some advice for Taylor:
Here’s a graph showing camera sales in 1000’s since 1933:
It’s sad when – too late – we regretfully say: “I wish I had asked my mother about that.” Or my father. Or my grandmother.
Most parents know our children are not as fascinated by our fascinating lives as we are. Only when they have children of their own—and feel the first twinges of their own advancing age—do they suddenly want to know more about their family heritage and all its stories, legends, myths and anecdotes: ‘What exactly were those stories my mom used to tell about . . . (her ancestors? farming? their old cars? camping? traveling? the war? books she’d read?)?’ ‘Where exactly was it that she grew up? Sure, Harrismith district, but which farm, where?’
Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into. That record can take many shapes. It can be a formal memoir. Or it can be an informal family history, written to tell your children and your grandchildren about the family they were born into. It can be the oral history that you extract by tape recorder or mp3 from a parent or a grandparent too old, too sick or not inclined to do any writing. Or it can be anything else you want it to be: some hybrid mixture of history and reminiscence.
Whatever it is, it’s an important kind of writing.
Too often memories die with their owner, and too often time surprises us by running out. Pffft! like that.
Start like this:
1955 – born
1960 – memories of the ‘farmhouse’
1961 – Moved to town
1961- Sub A Teacher Mrs van Reenen
1972 – Matric
Then go back to it regularly, or every time you think of something, and add little bits – just dates and notes. It’ll grow from there. And your grandkids WILL be fascinated. Your great-grandkids more so.
Best place to do it nowadays is on a blog just like this one.
Paraphrased from William Zinsser – “How to Write a Memoir”
It’s the fourth time we have celebrated your birthday without you. And it’s not the same. It was chaos, of course. After two weeks of hum n haw, the kids decided we needed to go to Butcher Boys in town for big steaks. Then they decided on John Dorys nearby for fish n chips. Then Jess decided not to go.
In the end TomTom, Lungelo & I went to the nearby centre. They each had a R99 mixed platter, I had steak and we brought two calamari n chips home to Jess & her friend Tarryn.
When they’d finished the boys walked home and I finished a second glass of wine and paid. Just before I left a lady at a nearby table came over. She knew Tom from aftercare and was all complimentary. I thanked her for helping to get the lil bugger to pass!