Tag Archives: memories

Thought #49. On folk memory.

I still remember with heartfelt emotion the enticing prospect of a summer’s fortnight at my grandparents’ cottage. They would boast about what they had achieved, not without a great deal of hard work though. Had it not been for their financial ingenuity in hard times, my mother, aunts and uncles would have not been who they are. Mum is the eldest of six children and although she was widowed at the early age of 42, she already had five children.

My grandfather, Fermin, born on July 7th, 1919, fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. Fortunately, he survived it and became a forest guard on January 26th, 1946. He devoted his life to preserve the mounts of Castellon province, on the eastern coast of Spain. He would worship nature during the rest of his life, only coming into his own when trees and plants were literally surrounding him.

When my father died, we were living in a small suburb of Tarragona. As we did not have family there, my mother took us to Castellon, where her brothers and sisters lived. I was then eight years old and the elder brother of my baby sister. My grandparents lived between two places, their city flat in Castellon and a cottage near a small village that used to be a windmill. It was there, in that country house, where I hold so many treasured memories.

My grandmother, Adelina, was remarkably cheerful and always displayed a strong character. She was a good person, sometimes a little innocent. I would not go so far as to say that her patience hardly ever snapped but, most of the time, her company was extremely pleasant. I would play cards with her  till the small hours by candlelight, and tried to cheat her by using devious tactics. It was at those moments when she would snap fiercely.

Games apart, every summer with them was outstanding. Picking cherries and loquats, collecting apples and pears, watering tomato plants, I passed the time of those long days. We often made marmalade out of any ripe fruit. Food was never thrown away. A famine-stricken youth had taught them the lesson. A lesson inherited, as many others, from generations. Bits and pieces of a folk memory that we must not forget.

To Adelina and Fermin, from his grandson Alberto,  still captivated by your eternal humility, generosity and humanity.

Thought #43. Unreliable memories.

What’s your earliest childhood memory? And your most bitter-sweet one? Can you rekindle your great and joyful past events clearly? Maybe you can answer those questions easily, but that says little about your ability to recall facts and events as they really happened.

Apparently, a single long-term memory did not even exist as an entity. Our mind is not a library where a pile of books rests waiting for being loaned at will. Each life event is broken into several pieces that are stored in different places of our brain, sometimes redundantly. When we try to recall a memory, a process of reconstruction takes place.

It often happens that we find ourselves unable to conjure up a particular event. Probably, it would come later, unexpectedly. Then, if it is still relevant, we will make an unconscious effort to store it again, reinforcing the chances of a future successful retrieval. But memories are volatile, shifting and unstable.

The process of reconstruction can add irrelevant and misleading information to the original event, making new pictures of our past reality each time we trigger and recall them. Depending on the situation in which we try to remember something, our brain can take a wrong path and end up with a wrong set of pieces to build a past experience.

I would not go so far as to say that we can barely trust our brain storage system, but next time you want to remember something, think about the possibility of taking your memories with a pinch of salt and, if you have your smartphone, take a picture. It is worth a thousand memories.