“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” ~ Matsuo Basho.
They say we form memories best by associating things with something else. There are times when a long forgotten scene appears clearly in your mind, along with the associated smells and emotions, triggered by who knows what. You may go to a place you have not been for years and all of a sudden you can remember the conversation you had when last you were there, even the clothes you were wearing that day. Of course if you are like me, you can completely forget a conversation you had yesterday, or even five minutes ago!
Glancing down from an airplane to the neat landscape of England I suddenly remembered visits to my Auntie Elsie, and along with that came the harsh memory of the toilet paper we had to use. Izal toilet paper was medicated and scratchy, resembling tracing paper. It guaranteed that we did not like to linger when we visited our mother’s oldest sister. There were other reasons too. She was single, had no kids, and had certain expectations of her visiting young relatives. Seen and not heard was the ideal level of behavior!
Whenever I return to the land of my birth I am struck by opposing impressions: so strange yet so familiar. It is the land I have spent the least amount of my life in, so it is not surprising that it feels strange. When I visit Jamaica I get a similar feeling, the scenery is oh so familiar, yet I am a stranger. It is not only the years away that make the place feel strange, it is that the place itself changes, it evolves and transforms and the returning resident has to try to catch up with the new reality, the new slang, the new ways of doing business.
At a gathering of Jamaicans recently, a group of people who have lived away from Jamaica longer than they lived there, I was struck by how often the conversation drifts back to old time stories, to the way things were. Arguments arise about a word, a practice, and people compare stories of their childhood, recalling outdoor kitchens, outdoor toilets, simpler but harsher times. As I listened I wondered whether a similar group of Jamaicans who still live in Jamaica do the same type of reminiscing, or would they think it strange? Is it only those who are dislocated, separated from their childhood home that keep the memories alive through conversation?
Christmas is that time of year that brings memories of our childhood traditions flooding back. What made it special was doing things exactly the same each year, bringing out the same decorations, going through the same rituals, eating the same Christmas foods, drinking the same Christmas drinks. In England it is mince pies that appear, in Jamaica it is black cake and sorrel. As adults we try to recapture that childhood feeling of anticipation and hope that we provided the same for our own kids.
A trip to England is never complete without a visit to an historic pub. Last night we went to the Pack Horse Inn, built originally in the 1400s. It has log burning stoves in the fireplaces, and wooden beams stretch across the low ceilings. But it also has on display the skull of (supposedly) a local ‘headsman’, the executioner (off with their heads!) of the Earl of Derby. Apparently the Earl of Derby and his soldiers had massacred over a thousand residents of the area, but the crime for which he was beheaded was for supporting the ‘pretender’ to the British throne in the mid 1600s.
There were also two portraits on one wall; sketches of two ‘bare-knuckle’ boxers. One was an Englishman (Jim Belcher) the other an African American, former slave, Tom Molineux. The latter apparently traveled to England and fought around the country until his death in Galway, Ireland at the age of 34. It is always good when an evening out also provides a history lesson or two!
Regardless of what you find when you go ‘home’, it is always good to be removed from your everyday routines to gain perspective. The change in scenery along with the change in focus, in news, in conversation topics gives you the much needed break you need to reboot your brain. It forces you to take a step back, to let go of those things you think you need to control, and allow others to take over for a while.
Associations and connections; memories and reflections. Visiting family and friends provide endless occasions for such activities. When your life leads you far away from your starting point and from those with whom you started your life, you realize the importance of taking those opportunities to reconnect. Life is brief, it is unpredictable, and before we know it years have slipped by.
On this Friday morning of the shortest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere), may you be looking forward to a time of happy celebration. May your Christmas season be filled with joy, laughter, good food and good company. May your happy memories outweigh your sad, and may you have nuff sorrel, black cake, mince pies or whatever other traditional food brings you joy.
Have a wonderful Christmas week, Family!