It started like this:
I was asked to be the “Food and Servants” director (a.k.a. Mrs Hughes) for the Downton Abbey Tea fundraiser that the Grandmothers and Grandothers are putting on for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Since I am not a Downton Abbey fanatic, I had to watch Season 4 to understand what went on in the kitchen and what Mrs Hughes did and how she looked (the guests and the “staff” are in costume.)
I researched a menu for an afternoon tea, then drafted the recipes in the quantities needed for the tea (60 guests). Then, with the committee, sought volunteer bakers and serving staff.
The most important food item is the scone. My goodness, I have to get that right. They should not be fluffy like the American biscuit – oh, no! They should be at least as high as they are wide, and have a natural break somewhere near the middle so the guest can gently pull it apart to spread with clotted cream and jam.
After baking a couple of test batches, I finally got it right. But the journey to get there – I went to the internet first, then my favourite cookbooks, then the recipe box. I know, who uses a recipe box anymore?
But, it’s a treasure trove of old connections and emotions. The cards are stained and marked from use. Here’s the soy chicken recipe that my sponsor teacher introduced when I was learning how to be a Home Economics teacher. And my sister-in-law’s English Muffin recipe – no one could make them like her. My mother’s typed Raisin Jumbo Cookies – remember when typed mistakes had to be struck out or erased with a special eraser? My mother-in-law was a baker in name and vocation – we use her Welsh Cake recipe to this day. Many of the friends and relatives have passed away or we’ve lost contact with them. All the recipes I pulled out of the box had memories associated with them.
But…. where will the memories be housed for future generations? I went looking for my mother-in-law’s elastic-bound cookbook, with its cryptic notes and recipes that read, “Add enough flour until it feels right”. While searching, I found a journal I kept when I was a new teacher, a new bride, a new house-builder, and a soon-to-be new mother. I would say it was an eye-opener, but it really wasn’t. My thoughts, activities, priorities, lifestyle and friend and family relationships were so very familiar. I have a theory that our personalities are basically developed at birth, and unless life throws us curve balls (or we throw our own curve balls at life) we are who we are. The read did remind my always-poor memory about the activities we were engaged in 35 years ago, and how optimistic and active we were then.
I mourn the death of physical memory-holders. So much so that I wrote a short essay, The Death of Nostalgia, which I may or may not have submitted to The Globe & Mail. (I told you my memory is poor!)
Here it is (and if you’re still with me, thank you for your patience):
“After a recent move to our last home, I am filtering through the boxes of our family’s lives.
When I was in the middle of those plumb-full child-raising years, I was scarcely able to scan the records at the end of the school year, before I tossed them into a box. Photos, with their accompanying negatives, ended up unsorted, for the most part, stuffed into file cabinets. Into the pile went memorabilia from sports teams, trips, concerts.
I always intended to organize photo albums and scrapbooks for each of the four children, during a seaside holiday or when I was unemployed for a spell. But, these life records just got moved in their “raw” state from one home to the next. Now, as I sort, I ask, “Is this photo/project/essay/birthday card/report card/badge/artwork worth keeping? Will my son or daughter care to have it?
Somewhere in this home, as yet uncovered, is a letter I treasure: a brief note that my aunt wrote to my mother shortly after I was born. Nothing profound, just a ramble about their daily lives with new babies. I don’t have a photographic memory, nor even a very good long-term one. I need these physical reminders of what a great life I have had. It became poignant to learn about my childhood when I started having my own babies. Always sentimental, I got obsessive about capturing every detail about each new and remarkable life in my arms.
Our children, now wonderful and warm-hearted young adults, state in many ways that they are close to us and each other. But I wonder if these mementos will have any meaning to them, even when they have children of their own. In a time when digital photos are a dime-a-dozen; most (unsorted) photos are stored on laptops, memory sticks or in “the cloud”; videos are produced daily on cell phones or digital cameras; and parent blogs chronicle every poop or giggle the new baby makes. There’s no physical “stuff.” We’re encouraged on the Home and Garden channel to hire a home organizer to banish clutter in our increasingly small living spaces anyway.
With each piece I place in the “keep” pile, I rationalize that I would like to have such an item from my childhood. The “about me” assignment: “I have blue eyes, 2 brothers and 1 sister. I am 10 feet tall. I want to be a boat guy when I grow up.” (He’s an engineer.) I wrote down and put into the “keep” pile every cute utterance the children made.
I am interested in my husband’s early life, too, as a way to get to know him and maybe understand our children’s health, personalities, or abilities. The young couples I am close to seldom want to know anything about their partners’ pre-adult lives. Everything they may want to know, they can find on Facebook. And maybe they’re right. They’re taking their loved ones at face value. They’re forming their own history.
Is technology erasing the need for physical mementos? Are too many images and too few (Tweeted) words reducing the depth of our relationships to our parents, our partners and our children? Notes and letters are sent by email, and quickly banished to the virtual trash can. We are encouraged to save-a-tree by not printing them.
Thank you for listening!
Sharing with these fine parties: