Written by Mary van der Kroef
The smells rising from curls of wood shavings all over the cement floor. How the wood dust stuck to his jacket. These are the things I remember most fondly about my grandfather. But did I know I loved them at the time?
The thing about memory is, it’s never quite one hundred percent honest. The things we remember and love are elevated as we remember them. Our minds shine them up, gloss them over, even deepen them. Things we fear, hurts we have taken or given, are treated the same. Why do our brains do this?
I believe it’s because memory is embedded with emotion. A beautiful marrying of things happening, and how we perceive them through our own personal emotions. That perception can change with time as we grow, age and learn, adding knowledge and wisdom. That adding to ourselves changes how we remember, and things that are most prominent in those memories.
So I enjoyed those things I remember from my grandfather’s wood shop. But as I have aged, my love for them has depended. When we lost Grandpa John to illness, it deepened my memories. It grew my emotions attached to those memories. Now just saying his name in my mind brings back the wood shop smell like a punch of sent. I know as a little girl visiting Grandpa, that isn’t what I would have remembered, even after just leaving.
Dose this make my memories lies? No. Everything I remember happened and was present. My memories look way more like art than lies. There is truth buried deep inside each one, beyond the objects and smells and things that happened. They hold the truth of how he loved me.
I remember how it felt to be a tinny human siting on his lap, running my soft bare cheek against his five o’clock shadow of a beard. Feeling the warmth, the affection, experiencing his patience, the toughness of those whiskers, the streaks of white and grey in their bristles. My memories have painted a portrait that includes a smell, a touch, a comfort, and a tear all wrapped together. The tear was added after I lost him. But in the bottom of that tear, my sadness is tinged with hope. Hope that one day I will walk the roads of Heaven, holding my grandfather’s hand. The hope that he is waiting for me.
As I remember my grandfather, I know that my portrait of him differs from anyone else. My cousin’s memories may be close to mine, but they won’t be the same. They are their own art, their own emotions.
What about my grandmother? She who knew my grandfather the most? Her memories must be coloured far different from mine. The moment they first met, the day they married, making their family, their home. The art of love walks through every moment of those memories. I have seen that art played out by both of them, in the years before our loss. It has seeped into my memories of them together. If that love has deepened my memories, I can’t imagine how it has coloured my grandmothers.
Perhaps that is a good thing. Those memories are treasures only she and God understand, or have a right to.
Another thing about memories is they are so individual. Two people can experience the same thing and remember it differently. Each has painted a mind picture their own.
If every memory is a piece of art, then the whole of a person’s memories must be like a tapestry that is being woven. Years and years of art making. A whole life’s experience, a master piece coloured by a personality and emotions all their own.
The memories I have of my grandfather are beautiful. They comfort me, even if they make me cry at the same time. But what about memories I have of hurt? Can I also call those art? Some of those memories are full of fear. Some of them are full of darkness. Alone, it’s terrifying to relive them. But I have also found as I have aged, I have gained the ability to look at them beside all the other threads of my memories. They are not wholly individual. They are a part of my entire life experience. They are also art.
They are the shadows in my tapestry. They are there to teach. Making the colours of my joy’s all the brighter. Letting my mountains and valleys, trees and flowers pop from the woven whole with life.
What about the memories that don’t stick? Is there a reason we forget something’s, and other live with us forever?
Again, I believe the answer is in the emotions. Human beings attach emotions to memory. If a life event doesn’t move us in someway, we forget. Or at least push it to the side and it loses its lustre. It becomes a grey in the background, a light purple on our memories’ horizon. If we recalled everything with the same vividness, our tapestry would overwhelm with information.
Memories, I believe they are part of the gift of creativity that every human possesses. The ability to learn is attached to our creativity.
Is memory and how our emotions play with it, our brain’s way of teaching us through time, things we may not yet be ready to receive?
I am no psychiatrist, just a writer searching to learn through my own memories. But as we learn through the making and study, and even just the viewing of ‘art’s from the past. So I believe we learn from our memories, and they weave a masterpiece of our years.
We are each a masterpiece.
So, what do I learn from the remembering of my grandfather? From the vivid smells, pictures and emotions that flood me when I think of him? I remember the lessons he taught. Lessons of kindness, along with the simple ways of how to live well by the food I eat and the work I do. But there is something deeper within those memories. I remember how loved I am. A truth I often need to be reminded of. My memories are there to do the reminding.
I have been fortunate. Many of my memories hold the truth of love. Even the darker ones.
What is the overwhelming colour of your memories? Perhaps thinking of those memories as arts will help you identify those emotions behind them. May you be able to identify the threads running through your masterpiece. Let us each know we are masterpieces. Just like each item crafted in the dust of my grandfathers wood shop.
Text © Mary van der Kroef
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