Are you a custodian of memory? Are you the custodian of other people’s memories?
In the movie, Beaches, Barbara Hershey’s character, who has a young daughter, asks Bette Midler’s character to remember her story because she is dying, she asks her friend to become the custodian of her memories.
We, who write biography, history and historical fiction, recreate lives out of fragments of memory and from the trail of artefacts strewn along the path of time.
Some of us are the custodians of our children’s memories. They go on their journey through life, leaving their cache of memories in our closets, our sheds and in our hearts. And we preserve those memories whether physical or emotional because they connect us to our younger selves, they are the social history of our family and our times. We hope the owners might come back for them one day.
Our friends become custodians of our memories and we of theirs. My friend, Glenys, sends me photos of orchids…Max’s orchids, which I couldn’t take with me when I moved interstate. For twenty years she has held our shared memory and sent photos of its re-flowering.
I am the keeper of my in-laws memory. In about 1918, my newlywed father-in-law built a piano stool, a sideboard and a bookcase with leadlight panels and writing centre. They are solid oak, sturdy, handmade before electric tools made such projects easy. I took them all the way to South Australia and back again. Why, I often ask myself.
I imagine that young man making furniture for his new home and the joy he must have felt as those planks of heavy timber became things of beauty. I never met him. He died before I became part of that family. But I am the custodian of his memory and of all the family members whose hands touched that warm timber during the last, almost one hundred years.
I watch Antique Road Show on the ABC. I am amazed at the objects, the old letters and paintings and the treasures that have been handed down through families, some objects centuries old. The experts price these objects, but who can put a price on memory?
I collect memories of people I don’t know. At used book sales, I find it hard to pass a book with and inscription. I wonder what happened, what is the story behind the discarded book of poetry inscribed in 1982-Oh for a lovely and fulfilling life together, peace ,love and smiles…?
I hope they found that life and that it is still going.