As a child, I mourned greatly the death of my great-grandmother, who died on my thirteenth birthday. Later, my grandmother, who died a few months before I married; and then my other grandmother, who shared the joy and anticipation that my wife and I felt at expecting our first child, but never lived to see him born.
Just recently I have mourned the death of another man, who, although we were not close, meant more to me than he probably ever realised.
Now, as the warmth of summer slips into the coolness of memory, and another autumn begins, I find myself mourning the living.
I find autumn to be a bittersweet time of year. The heat of the sun has gone, and the leaves are falling, yet the apple trees are sagging low under the weight of their fruit, and we are picking wild blackberries and watching the squirrels store their acorns in readiness for winter. The children are returning to school, beginning new adventures and leaving me to my morbid thoughts.
Sorry about this. I’m not in the habit of dwelling on such things, but I’ve been feeling a sense of loss recently and I want to externalise those thoughts – to package them into a bundle and expel them as words on the page. It’s a coping mechanism, but also a desire to give my feelings a degree of permanence, even as I move on from them and leave them in my wake.
You see, the turning of the seasons has made me realise just how much I have lost of my early memories. The more that my life is lived, the more of it that has irretrievably vanished. Most of my life, I would guess, has now slipped from view. All that remains is a collection of peaks and troughs, partly concealed, hidden from view, steadily losing intensity and gaining in fallibility through disuse.
My earliest memory is a fabrication, I believe, constructed retrospectively, partly from an original imprint of a moment that must have been special in some way, but also from photographs, seen later, and used to embellish the stored sensation.
I am a baby, and in a pram, one of those huge old-fashioned ones that looks like it ought to have been used in the 1930s, not the swinging sixties. It is a bright sunny day, as the past always seems to be, but it is not summer yet, because I am wrapped excessively in blankets and possibly some kind of bonnet. It may even be winter, as the air seems crisp, and the light has that magical quality of sun in winter. My mother is smiling at me, and saying something, perhaps my name, although who knows? She is very young and dressed fashionably for the time, like Jackie Kennedy, although I can only know this fact with hindsight. My father is impossibly young and handsome, like a kind of James Dean figure, but a happy one. He looks on, proudly, although no child could be aware of that, so this must, as I say, be a fabrication, a reconstruction.
Those people are gone now: the rosy baby that was me, now a father in my own right, and not a young one, but well into middle age; the doting young parents, who are now in their seventies and look and behave differently to the people in my memory. Who knows why this moment was preserved in time for almost fifty years? Nothing of any significance seems to happen. Why this fragment of time, and so few others?
Sorry to burden you with such ramblings. I just needed to pause quietly for a moment. Now, it is time to move forward once again. Life must be lived, not just remembered.