I was twelve when I saw the photo
The photo was of my maternal grand-mother, Mamie. She was sitting at a dinner table, laughing out loud, her head thrown back a little. The meal is over, napkins careless on the table. The laughing woman adds joie de vivre. My mother looked at it for a moment and said, “Mamie gave wonderful dinners. She was the heart and soul of the party.”
My grandmother as a party animal was totally unexpected. I’ve described Mamie recently in my memoir as a thrifty, tall and vitreous stick of a woman.
I was not a favoured grandchild
Mamie seemed never pleased to see me and I steered clear of her. So I saw an opportunity.
“Mamie’s in the garden; I’ll show her, the photo,” I said.
“NO, no. Don’t do that, you will upset her.”
Mum tried to explain. The past was a place adults didn't like to visit for the present
didn't measure up.
Years later when I was twenty-one and just about to leave for Hong Kong, Mum uncharacteristically snapped at me for endlessly crooning the hit song Those Were the Days.
Russian folksong goes down well in Russia
Days after that exchange with Mum, I was rolling across the starry steppes of Siberia, singing the song with great gusto to Russians on the Trans-Siberian Railway. They loved it because they were drunk as Tsars and because it was originally a Russian folk-song.
Recently, and now in my sixties, when I started
to write memoir
I thought of my mother, my grandmother, that photo and that song. Revisiting the mopey, self-indulgent lyrics of Those Were the Days, I have to wonder what were we thinking! But I also thought about messages that the past was a place to visit with trepidation.
Bullshit, my friends
Like life itself, the past is what we make it. How we imagine the future is seldom objective, how we remember the past isn't either. With hindsight we can use perspective and examine life and celebrate our success, for survival is success; warts and all! My generation has even earned the right to sing that silly song, unlike Mary Hopkin when she first sang aged eighteen!