One of my favourite childhood memories is going for a walk near home and picking up acorns and seeing the wonderful little cups that held them. Perhaps even more fun was seeing squirrels pick them up – storing food for later. The phrase ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’ seems apt for summer where little acorns can be seen as memories that are planted and which can grow and nurture us over the years. Memory making is a key element of what youthworkers and families do and if we look back, there are things which have shaped us and changed us and which have helped make us who we are. Sadly, not all memories are good and some of us have experienced things which have made life more difficult for us and the same little acorns can grow into oaks which overshadow our lives and which we need help to chop down.
Mum joined us for a few days on holiday and one of the things we did together was to visit Polperro in Cornwall. Polperro is a name I have known since I was very young as that was what Mum’s Godmother and husband had called their house. They have been dead so many years now and there are no relatives left who might know the story. But we wandered down the lanes wondering where they might have stayed.
I have written more than once recently about visiting aspects of my childhood. At Polperro we played amongst the rhodedendrons, watched the fish in the pond, saw adults playing on a full sized snooker table, collected eggs from the hens and met lots of family members we seldom saw as different branches of the family came together. One of my favourite childhood memories comes from a photo where several of us were sitting in a hammock. I am enjoying revisiting some of these memories while Mum can fill me in about all sorts of things which are only fragments.
The roses in this picture live on my bedroom window sill. They are over 30 years old. They are from the bouquet I carried when I was a bridesmaid for my lovely friend Grace. On Wednesday I traveled to London to say goodbye to her. I saw the lilies as I walked back to Colliers Wood station. They are beautiful, reflecting God’s glory as she did. Worship, love, encouragement and following God’s call were at the heart of her life – I learnt much from her example. We both gave up our jobs at the same time, Grace to join YWAM and me YFC, she got to go to Hawaii and me Luton – I clearly didn’t learn everything I could have done! Using our metaphor of marker posts and shelters, she was both for me.
Last week I went back to Reading for Mum’s birthday. The morning after we took a trip down memory lane. For the first eight years of my life most Saturdays we went to visit Dad’s family – near Cemetery Junction of Ricky Gervais fame! One of my abiding childhood memories is the walk down to the Kennet with a big bag of bread to feed the swans – perhaps the grandparents of the swans in the picture here! We lent over the metal link fencing and threw chunks of bread which were eagerly grasped. I still love to see swans, they evoke some of the simple pleasures of childhood.
I don’t know if I was told when I was young, if I was I didn’t remember, that the bridges we walked under each week were built by Brunel. One of my favourite sights today is as we approach the river Tamar on our way into Cornwall and see the Brunel railway bridge. I appreciate the transition that bridges offer. Brunel also built the horseshoe bridge of the picture above too – apparently so barge horses could use it. Crossing the bridge always seemed a little bit scary as a child, I remember is as being a little more rickety and wooden and seeing the water through cracks, my vivid imagination imagining it collapsing!
We drove around a little and Mum pointed out roads where relatives lived, I passed the church I got baptized in. Sadly the house I remember from my childhood is long gone, and we couldn’t quite work out where the road would have been but I have many fond memories of being there. The record player in the front room, watching Dr Who on the television, Saturday afternoon sport, beautiful flowers in the garden, the mangle in the outhouse and the outside toilet, the tin of buttons. As a child I was fascinated by so many simple things and many years on I enjoyed the connections and rootedness I felt going back.
Last weekend we sat in Rossi’s, one of Paul’s childhood haunts, and I took this picture of the lightening sky after heavy rain. The sign above the counter reflected in the glass.
As Christmas approaches we may spend quite a bit of time looking backwards. Perhaps to some of the magical memories of our childhood when the days leading up to Christmas day were full of excitement. Perhaps to some of the sad Christmases where we lamented someone or something we had lost.
Today is the end of term for many. Another opportunity to look backwards and reflect on what happened to the hopes and fears we started the term with. To perhaps resolve to make changes for next term.
While I want to be fully present in today a little bit of looking backwards helps me to learn, be grateful and change.
When I think back to some of my childhood memories, the things that stand out are the little things. I don’t know if my parents were conscious of the idea of memory making – I hear it talked about much more now but perhaps that is a youth worker thing… All my vivid pictures are of things like picnics or fishing and other sporting things, being got out of bed at my cousins to see a partial eclipse…
This summer I have enjoyed some of these seemingly little things: hitting the golf club my adorable nephew told me to hit and doing a much better shot than my choice would have led to; playing with god children at Kingsbury – watching them feed the birds, take risks on play equipment; sitting watching swallows playing in the eaves of where we were staying and watching egrets roosting in the trees; browsing round a local art fair on Bodmin admiring the creativity of others; worshipping at the riverside chapel… These are the things that have nurtured my soul and spirit – little things which really are big things.
There are unhelpful ways of reminding people of your presence at a place of beauty such as litter or graffiti. Despite doing this walk many times over the years we have never seen cairns here before – a beach a little bit east of Bude.
We sat looking at them wondering who had built them – one person, different people and thinking about why, what they meant to those who helped to build them. They are largely above the tide line except if there is a big storm so I wonder if next time we come they will still be there or a new fashion will have been adopted and a different sort of creation appeared…