memories

A memory is a picture the heart takes.

-Anonymous

My children (and my husband too, as it turns out) do the oddest thing. They use their eyes like an old-fashioned camera with a shutter to take ‘photos’ of moments.

Does anybody else do that, or is it just my family?

The procedure is as follows:

  1. Stare at your mother until she gets a weird expression on her face, or until she does something odd.
  2. Blink and hold in this position for a few seconds.
  3. Say, ‘I just took a photo of you.’
  4. Laugh … and laugh … and laugh.
  5. Keep laughing, even after your mother has left the room in disgust.
  6. If you are really brave, wait until your mother returns to the room, then recreate the ‘image’ on your own face, or assume the same body position as depicted in the photo you ‘took’.

Apparently, when you follow steps 1 and 2, in your mind’s eye you can see the ‘photographed’ image. The longer you leave your eyes shut, the longer the image will remain with you and the easier it is to ‘flick through your album’ later to resurrect said image.

I’ve tried this and it doesn’t work. I just look, and feel, like a twat.

Visual images form great memories. Remembered moments are wonderful, because you can summon them up anywhere, anytime. But they do tend to fade over time, or become distorted, which is why it is also good to have ‘hard copies’, i.e. real photos.

Memories created by your other senses, however, do not seem to fade.

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The brain and the heart combine to create the most powerful memories. (Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

Smell is a strange one. Whenever I use a particular brand of washing powder, more so if I am hand washing and my nostrils are filled with the smell of it, I am instantly transported back to when I was in Year 12.  I can be tired beforehand, but when I wash something with this powder, I feel momentarily uplifted, happier and more energetic. Maybe I should wear some in a vial around my neck? Or maybe I should analyse the ingredients. It is odd that I am instantly reminded of Year 12 though.

The most predominant ‘sound’ memory stimulant for me is a song. Particular songs transport me back to certain periods in my life, but no single one is as powerful as the song we played in the middle of my father’s funeral. I cannot listen to that song without crying.

When I was in Primary School, we had an in-school dentist (as many schools did back in my day). Yellow teeth, bad breath and rough hands – he was the root of my still present fear of dentists. The click-click of the sensible heels worn by the dental assistant (who also happened to be his wife and just as, if not more, scary) were enough to make stomachs clench in fear and in some cases, judging by the smell, bladders empty. (I hasten to add here, the latter did not apply to me.) These days, thankfully, school corridors tend to be carpeted so I am yet to discover if the sound of those heels would invoke awful memories. However, sound memory is not the reason I relate this tale, rather, it is a related memory brought on by both taste and texture.

At some point during my Primary School years, I required a filling. When my mother received the call from the dentist’s office, I was at home tucking in to my afternoon tea – a pikelet. (To those not in the know, a pikelet is like a mini-pancake, but often sweeter.) My fear of this man and the pain he was going to inflict was so great that upon hearing the news of my impending doom I broke into great, gasping sobs and ended up spluttering gobs of half-chewed pikelet all over the floor and my shirt.

I was unable to eat pikelets for several years following this event. But that is not the worst of it. Now, whenever I do eat a pikelet (and it has to be of the same taste which I cannot accurately describe, I just know it), I sometimes get the same gut-clenching fear of all those years ago unless I eat it very quickly, or in tiny little bites, so as to minimise the taste and avoid the gluey texture achieved when you put too much in your mouth.

For the record, I am still petrified of dentists. This is a real condition – known as odontophobia: an irrational and overwhelming fear of dentistry. But I digress.

Memories are both wonderful and terrible. Happy and sad. Useful and debilitating. They are a source of frustration when we can’t remember something we want to remember (that happens to me a lot). Most of all I find it amazing that although our brains, powerful organisms that they are, can often not activate memory at our whim, if we catch a tiny whiff of something, an innocuous sound, the bare suggestion of taste or texture, let alone a visual image, everything comes flooding back in an instant. How awesome is the human body?

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