The Orange Biscuit Barrel: The power of childhood memories

This is a guest post by author Shanta Everington:
 
After I had my son, six years ago, I started having vivid flashbacks from my own childhood.

Photo credit: Keith Riley Whittingham http://www.flickr.com/photos/bagoogoo/

My earliest proper memory is of the orange, plastic, biscuit barrel. It had a black lid and was filled up with chocolate digestives, Bourbons, pink wafers and custard creams. I would have been two years and ten months old. I was sat outside with Daddy and Nanna, stuffing biscuits into my mouth in an attempt to fill up the gaping hole in my belly; it was the first time I'd been without my mummy for any stretch of time, and she was having my baby sister. Despite it being the seventies and us being hippies and everything, it was nonetheless deemed right and proper that Mummy should give birth in hospital with all the proper medical supplies on hand. Besides, she didn't want my dad in the way. Home birth? No thank you, very much.

Daddy came back from the hospital with two plastic dolls in boxes. One for me and one for my older sister. My doll's name was Jackie. She had fine straight honey coloured hair, and she was wearing a gold threaded outfit. She was the kind of doll I would have loved under ordinary circumstances. But I couldn't love Jackie; how I hated her. Because she was here and Mummy wasn't. I don't remember the moment Mummy came home with my little sister. I don't remember hating the new baby, although I'm sure part of me must have. But poor Jackie got it.

The next vivid memory is of wetting my knickers in the hallway of my parents' house. I remember there were lots of children running up and down and out into the garden. Was it a party? Somebody's birthday? Was it mine? My sister's? I remember the knickers that I loved – plain with a small cute character on the front. I seem to remember a bear. I remember wee running down my leg and making a puddle on the floor. I remember going to tell Mummy. I think I was crying. I remember Mummy cleaning it up quietly and hugging me and saying it didn't matter and me feeling stupid anyway. I remember being taken upstairs for a clean pair and not wanting to take the special bear pair off even though they were sodden.

Now I am in nursery. Am I three? I am threading opaque plastic shapes onto a long plastic tube. I am making a necklace. Something is wrong. I am crying. A falsely jolly fat woman with tight curly hair is saying, “It's not the end of the world, is it? It's not the end of the world.” I remember her words precisely. Although I could not understand the meaning of the phrase, I found it mocking. I didn't like her. She was not my mummy.

Why do we always remember the bad stuff: the fear, the disappointment, the shame? Is it a warning, a lesson in empathy? Be careful with your child! This is how they will feel! This is the enormity of that moment that you never forgot!

Photo credit: James West  http://www.flickr.com/photos/jameswest/

Recently, I asked my mum to get out some old photo albums, so we could look back at all the good stuff – the paddling pool in the back garden, the family holidays by the coast, making mince pies at Christmas.

‘Oh, look at you,’ says Mum, through her smile, transported back.

I see myself as a young girl, crouching on the grass, holding a bucket, dress bunched up around my legs. I'm smiling out from my tangled mane with my whole face, looking at the camera and saying, 'Here I am!'

‘Look at that one!’ says Mum, eyes wide. ‘Look at Dad! Oh my God, look at my hair!’

She's back there. She's looking at them all one by one. She's drinking them in. She's especially proud of that picture of me and my older sister that won a photography prize. A back view of two girls peering over a fence, long chestnut hair tumbling over pale skin, naked except for two identical pairs of red wellies. I doubt it would even get developed these days. So many pictures of us in various states of undress! I look through the albums: a picture of me 'marrying' Daddy in the garden, him in his penguin suit, me having made full use of the dressing up box, my sisters on either side draped in finery.

‘We were happy, weren't we?’ says Mum, almost surprised.

I close the album and I see so many other pictures in my head, so many good times.

How things have moved on; nowadays, we click, rather than flick, through our albums.  I browse images on my laptop: my son, red faced and squirming on his very first day in the world; grinning in the garden on his first birthday; aged two, dressed in a Spider Man costume; aged three, holding my hand on a lilo on holiday in Spain; aged four, wearing a tie on his first day at school; and on it goes...

But wait.... he's calling me from the trampoline now, “Come and bounce, Mummy! Come oooon!!!”

It's time to log off now and go and make some new memories with him.

Shanta Everington is the author of four books, including:

and 

both with Need2Know Books. 

She runs a parenting book blog at www.parentguideuk.wordpress.com and a writing website at www.shantaeverington.co.uk