Memory in the Margins

A friend who sometimes reads these postings suggests that I write more personally than I do. He says, ‘the opinions and ideas of an older person are as interesting as their occasionally creaking limbs’. I have been hesitant to do too much of that, although I find I have been thinking a great deal recently about my earliest days, confirming the experience of older people that it’s easier to recall what happened years ago than to remember what you did yesterday. Someone of my age said ‘the past is over, the future is unpredictable, let’s live in the present’. But the past is never entirely ‘over’, and remains in the margins of one’s life. As one gets older those fragments of memory can be nurturing, but sometimes disturbing as well.

My sister and a cousin both died last year, and I am now the only remaining member of our small family who is still alive. I have therefore lost not only people who have been important to me but also a basic connection with my formative years.

This must be a common experience: ‘it’s only me now’. I have a quite irrational wish that I could refresh and learn from those memories and in particular that I could better understand my father – not as the growing child I was, but as the man I now am. Impossible!

My father was a kind, courteous man. If he passed a woman on the street he raised his hat and would always walk near the curb as protector of my mother. He was traditional in his values, almost certainly voted conservative, had a great respect for royalty and read the Daily Mail. My parents led a conventional life, went to church on Sundays, their circle of friends similar people who inherited a way of life they were unlikely to question. My father was devoted to my mother and if she could sometimes act impetuously, he was the stable one and only a sudden shaft of humour suggested that somewhere deep down an anarchist was lurking.

He was a sailor in the 14-18 war, his boat torpedoed and eventually he was rescued after five hours in the sea. A security officer for an airplane factory in the second world war, he later became a Personnel Manager, retiring with a derisory pension. Dying before my mother, he was always worried about whether she would be properly provided for after he had gone. (She was.)

He wasa good man but I don’t think I ever properly knew him, and I wish it was possible to do so after all these years. Perhaps it’s an illusion, but belonging now to a very different era and as a very different person, I wonder if the hidden man that I imagine his cultural loyalties prevented him from ever showing or even confessing to himself, could be unlocked. It can’t of course. This is fantasy and a bit morbid perhaps.

But the truth is that I miss him, this man whom I never properly knew.