Through the rear-view mirror

by Karen Hirst

It isn’t that I live in the past, quite the contrary, but from time to time I do like to dip into the memory bank and spend a few moments cocooned in idyllic childhood experiences.

I like to remember the places and people that filled my days with meaning and offered opportunities for a variety of memorable moments. For many of us, going through old family photos can often be the trigger to taking a look back in time and meandering down memory lane.

Sometimes moments pop up out of nowhere simply through exposure to a certain smell, taste, touch or experience.  We can be immediately transported back in time through our senses … for me the smell of pool chlorine and seeing the blue painted concrete of a public or hotel pool takes me back to visits with the Beaton cousins in Oshawa and afternoon outings to one of their very busy outdoor public pools.

With my only swimming experience being that of a river with its weeds that had to be calmly and skillfully skimmed across as I made my way to the deeper depths on the far side of the river or the occasional sensation of a fish brushing over exposed legs and feet, I had the feeling that the clear blue of a city public pool was the ideal luxury all communities should embrace. Today, recalling those city pools, I believe I can still smell the chlorine and feel the pleasure of that initial jump into the clear blue of the chlorinated water amidst the sounds echoing around the pool from other loudly playful children.

Hearing Chubby Checker sing ” Let’s Do The Twist ” transports me immediately to the living room of an older cousin Georgia who lived in Oshawa and with all the dance moves down pat from the TV show American Bandstand, she mesmerized her country bumpkin cousin. I really thought Georgia was a pretty cool teenager with her cityfied ways and although now deceased, in my mind she still does a pretty mean twist!

To sing “Found A Peanut, found a peanut, found a peanut last night”, a childhood little ditty sung with my paternal grandmother Kerry, is to remember with pleasure the collective choir of her grand-daughters singing word for word the chain of events that would transpire by eating a rotten peanut. As well, I am transported literally to my knees at her bedside in the Nursing Home and singing it with her one last time shortly before her death.

Memories can transport me to a simpler time, a time that offered frequent interplay in a multi-generational layered family, a time when attention to detail mattered and skilled hands meant cared for and cared about.

In the company of my maternal grandparents and both of their mothers, Cora Lee and Sarah Colley, summertime trips back and forth along Highway # 7 to visit relatives in Oshawa and Bowmanville allowed me to share, not something exotic, but the simple pleasure of a roadside picnic. My grandmother Colley could put a lunch together in her picnic basket second to none and her table setting included all the accoutrements of a lovely lunch served in her home.

With a colourful, freshly ironed tablecloth laid on the picnic table, serviettes plus a damp facecloth for handwashing along with favourite china teacups, the great-grandmothers along with myself and my grandparents, would all cozy up to table and enjoy a bountiful lunch. With satiated bellies, the elders all seemed to relax after the long highway drive with a cup of hot tea from Grandma’s thermos. Further along our journey up Highway # 7, when in season, we would stop at a roadside stand for freshly picked baskets of blueberries for later enjoyment at our destination…no blueberries have ever tasted as good and no roadside restaurant can quite match Grandma’s lunches out of her picnic basket.

To remember the skillful talent of my mother when her hands touched a sewing machine is to feel her creative passion for working with materials and sewing the most detailed doll’s dresses and outfits that would be sold at the Almonte United Church Christmas Bazaar. Little dresses in pretty cottons of every colour with smocking on the top or tiny delicate buttons to finish them off … every little girl’s dream dress for a doll she hoped to find under the Christmas tree. With precision and attention to detail, prom dresses the colour of coral, covered in silky chiffon, white ilet over yellow or a jewelled blue material … I was transformed into a Cinderella headed to the ball through the love of my mother’s hands.

We all have many of these precious snippets of time tucked away for rainy days  … moments that offer strength and courage, hope and faith in ourselves and in others, moments that remind us of where we’ve been, who we’ve travelled with and glimpses through the looking glass into who we’ve become.

Memories remind us that it is the simple pleasures of love shared that ultimately withstand the test of time and give meaning and direction to our lives.

Karen Hirst