How much of your life can you actually remember? Certainly the first few years must be a bit of a smudge where you only recall a few stand-out moments, flashes mostly. Whatever the memories, you won’t have many of them. As you get older, they begin to coalesce a little, become more dense, richer until you have chunks you can recall with much more detail, images in sharper contrast with sound and smells and echoes that are textured with emotion.
But as I think back in my life so far and try to step through the years, I find that even those years that I should remember well like my last few in primary school or indeed even my first few in high school, I can’t really remember that much, I only have selected moments.
It’s as if my memories from each year of my life are a deck of cards that have all been laid out on a dealers table in front of me in a sweeping arc from left to right, oldest to youngest. On the far left, the cards are all densely packed together and hardly anything is recognisable except for a few individual cards that stand askew. I have a memory of sitting in front of a fireplace in a nappy, don’t know if I was alone or not. A memory of a sunny day in winter in nursery school where I was trying to do a cartwheel, can’t remember if I got it right or not. A memory of my first day of primary school, in a safari suit uniform, scampering around the classroom looking for the best seat in the house. A vivid memory of the day it snowed where my family and I made snowmen in the garden and watched our two small dogs bound in and out of view in the white, still afternoon.
These are the individual moments from my earliest childhood that have survived the passage of time, at least that is, as far as I can tell, they may actually be corruptions of the truth because memory is fluid.
Then as the years progress to the right, the spacing of the cards gets a little wider and it’s easier to identify a run of cards of the same suit here and there, sometimes they’re even in sequence. These are memories of a period of time that I remember a little more clearly because they were important or special and I was old enough for them to stick. I remember a long holiday in Cape Town with many days on the beach rounded off with refreshing swims in a crystal clear swimming pool. A cable car ride and lots and lots of mango’s bought every day on the side of the road on the way back from the beach. Watching reel to reel movies with my family on an old projector against the dining room wall complete with the clickety-clack background noise, the odd break in the film that had to be fixed with tape and the reel changeover half way through.
But mostly, in these earlier years the cards are all still merged together so much so that I can’t really recall any detail about them other than that they’re cards and that they’re red or black. Sometimes the suite is visible, but sometimes it’s not. The card number itself is rarely in plain sight and can’t easily be differentiated from the rest and it’s a poorly shuffled deck making the order of the memories a little difficult to comprehend as well.
The closer to the right I get the better things are arranged. Large runs of cards in suit and numbers much more clear but obviously there are still plenty of jumbled cards where nothing important enough happened on that day to make it stand out from any other. Even a few years of my working career are quite vague as if I were living a somewhat lackluster life at the time. But I remember in complete detail my matric dance. A holiday where I bungee-jumped and river-rafted and came within a breath or two of drowning. The day I got my first new car and subsequently my first few traffic fines. The very first time I kissed my wife, before she was my wife. The day I proposed to her, a warm, somewhat cloudy day in a huge green garden. My wedding day in mid-summer with family and friends all around. The days that my children were born, respectively storming and windswept and sunny and clear.
I often wonder how much my boys are going to remember from this time in their lives. If my past is anything to go by, they won’t remember much at all really. I think about this quite often; is there is anything I can do to spread their cards out a little more at this age so they have a better shot at remembering some of the most special days that my wife and I have spent with them? The first swim in the ocean, the first ice-cream, the first airplane ride. Bedtime stories read out loud from a new book. Lying outside on a trampoline covered in coloured plastic balls, giggling at the bouncing, rolling palette of fun. The very first Christmas morning. The list is endless.
The sad thing is, I can’t guarantee any of their memories. I can’t say with any certainty which of them will survive the journey through time. Perhaps then I should just try to fill each of their days with laughter, but not just smiles and giggles, which are important too, but also those uncontrollable, all encompassing belly laughs that seem to last forever and twist them up like pretzels so much so that they literally roll on the floor laughing, something we as adults of the twitter age talk about all the time but never do. This with the hope that when my boys look back on their childhoods, the blur of memories they see is one big jumble of smiles and laughter. In short, a happy childhood.
Yes, I think that’s the way to do it.