Souvenirs of life

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These stones and feathers and shells can tell the story of my life in the last few decades… shells collected with the children on a Northland beach, a black and white feather lying outside the door when I opened it on our first day in a new house –  greeting from a tui… the brown and cream morepork feather found on a long walk around the harbour with the thoughts and dreams of that afternoon threaded through its fronds.

An ancient stone from a river bed in the Blue Mountains of Australia was picked up after a day spent abseiling in abject terror, another from a cold pebbled beach in Devon, the chill of the Atlantic  breakers still embedded in it after all these years, while the polished brown stone came from an underground cave in the central North Island where glow-worms illuminated the roof, and a river flowed through.  These things are the stuff of my life… as they are of every life in which they are valued.

As I looked at them I thought of how other collections can also tell the story of a life. When I renewed my passport recently I found all my old ones, going back to when I was twelve and going to France on my own to learn French. In that passport photo two frightened brown eyes gazed out at the world. I had been so appalled at this picture that I promptly destroyed the evidence.

Which left the rest – a twenty one year old about to go on holiday to Spain, well- groomed hair, immaculate lipstick, and veiled blank eyes… the next, an exhausted mother of two toddlers about to go to Hong Kong, badly cut hair, eyes sad and resigned. And then, a picture of a thirty five year old woman, lots of dark hair piled up confidently, smiling eyes, relaxed smile. Life to be lived now, not endured. In the decades since, the hair has got shorter and then faded, and the last photo was so awful I hoped to be un-recognisable, but the story of a life is told in those passport photos.

Another can tell the story of their life in their jewellery, the coral necklace given at a christening, the charm bracelet for a little girl, pearls for a twenty-first, the engagement ring and the gold band…  a gift to mark the first child,  a clumsy pottery brooch made  at school and proudly presented to a beloved mother… the ring inherited from a grandmother, the eternity ring at a silver wedding…  such precious collections can mark out the steps of a life quite as well as a photograph album.

I wonder if there is even a market these days for photograph albums now all our photos are taken on phones and I-pads. I was never much  of a photographer, so that the photos of my honeymoon were on the same roll of film as the pictures of my first baby. But I did have a memory.

I remember one summer’s afternoon when the children were three and four as they tumbled around on the grass, one wearing a sun-suit in glorious colours of pink and orange and red, the other in matching shirt and orange shorts. As I looked at them, revelling in their laughter, their shining hair, and sparkling eyes, pearly teeth and glowing sun-tanned faces, I thought to myself, I’m going to remember this moment forever.

It was a turning point, because I found I did never forget that moment. So now, I know I can fasten those moments I want to remember with that little intention, and our minds are so obedient that they obey the instructions, and can call up the images whenever they are wanted. On the other hand, I wonder if the ease of communication, the instant photos, the selfies sent from Rome or Khatmandu which reach every member of the family all over the world the same day, make it easy to forget. We don’t have to remember, because it’s all there, on Facebook or in the picture file on the computer.

But for how long? Until the internet crashes? Or some other disaster hits the net? The computer is stolen? Few people will be able to pick up old albums in the future and leaf through them re-living their own lives, or discover the lives of their ancestors. And how will biographers fare in the future? In the past we’ve had portraits and miniatures in pre-photography days; then the wonderful stilted posed photos of the early days of photography, with the expert’s head hidden under a black cloth over a tripod while he captured forever the people and that moment in their time.

Then came the brownie box camera and all the other simple do- it- yourself cameras, and families recorded their events and special moments themselves. Biographies of the famous from the twenties until the sixties are full of revealing snaps, but what will there be for future  writers and historians wanting to illustrate their books about the powerful and famous? Not much, I suspect.

In the past, many anonymous photos turned out to be records of history – impromptu black and white snaps of Battle of Britain pilots ‘scrambling’, shots of families crouched in air –raid shelters from London to Leningrad, soldiers in Africa or Italy taking grainy pictures of each other to send back home… joyful hugs and kisses of victory – all these spontaneous pictures of humanity enduring both the ordeals and the pleasures of the twentieth century, captured in black and white film, are the stuff of history.

But I wonder what history is being preserved today in our somewhat ephemeral records? Will collections of jewellery or stones, in the end be the things to jog people’s memories in the future? Maybe the photos in passports and on driving licenses will the best concrete records we will have… time to get a decent picture taken for these official documents perhaps !

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Summer salads don’t always mean lettuce for me… One of my favourites is grated cauliflower, mixed with chopped hard- boiled egg, some chopped Medjuel dates, toasted slivered almonds, and lots of chopped parsley. Then stir in enough good mayonnaise to the consistency you like. Chopped apple or banana is a variation, but actually anything can be added, and it still tastes good. But it can’t sit around, or it turns watery. I eat it on its own, but it’s also good with cold chicken.

Food for thought

And a poet said, Speak to us of Beauty. And he answered: Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself  be your way and your guide?  Beauty is not a need but an ecstasy. It is… a heart inflamed and a soul enchanted … a garden forever in bloom and a flock of angels in flight.

‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese poet, 1883 -1931. ‘The Prophet’ has never been out of print since it was published in 1923.

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44 Comments

Filed under birds, cookery/recipes, family, food, great days, happiness, history, life/style, love, poetry, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

44 responses to “Souvenirs of life

  1. Valerie, I just love your posts.

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  2. Lovely, Valerie. I agree- we are losing these tangible reminders, however small and inexplicable they may be to others, as we take snap shots to be uploaded or deleted on a whim. I have a box of similar items that I value among my most prized possessions. I think I might need to pull it out and have a trip down my own memory lane. Thank you for the wonderful prompt to do so.

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  3. I have been working on a post about a little collection I have that holds meaning for me, so I was very interested in the memories attached to your collection and to those attached to your brain! My Grandmother had ‘The Prophet’ sitting on her bookshelf from my earliest memory of her house. The salad sounds wonderful and I have a fresh head of cauliflower… Thank you!

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  4. Such an enjoyable post, Valerie. I also wonder how it is that we are caught in our most vulnerable and awkward moments when we pose for passport photos! The souvenirs of life are tangible things that mirror memories forever sketched in our hearts. Thank you for sharing your souvenirs of life with us… The summer salad sounds absolutely wonderful. I will try to make it when it gets warmer here in New Jersey. Love the quote from “The Prophet” as I read Kahlil Gibran when I was in High School and I loved his writing… Thank you! Dee

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    • Hello Dee, thank you so much for your comments – so glad you enjoyed the post – you’re right, those passport photos seem to capture all our insecurities !
      Lovely to know you enjoyed the quote – Gibran is so good to come back to after a long break !

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  5. I still print my favourite shots, not as often as i should, but i have a deep an abiding distrust of the internet surviving in its free state for very long.. it will either be banned or regulated or you will be charged.. It is easy to print too..all online now.. the ultimate irony! I have all my passports too.. very scary!! feathers too.. and rocks from all over the world.. aren’t we funny! Now off to bed for me.. Ni Ni Valerie.. c

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    • Passports , feathers and rocks – the ties that bind us !!!!
      You certainly gave me food for thought over your prophesies about the internet !!!
      Hope you sleep well in the bitter cold, thinking of you XXXX

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  6. Everyone has posted the comments I would like to write already. However, as my mind wanders through the collections I hold dear, I have a sinking feeling that those who follow on will never grasp the beauty, richness and value of these small insignificant objects.

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  7. It’s interesting isn’t it. I often think about the enormous monuments to civilisation that were made in ancient days. And now we’re down to the size of a computer chip. Writing ourselves out of history? Love this post, and the way you have been able to pin down your memories. Sign of a life well lived 🙂

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    • Hello Alarna, what an interesting comment… yes, the last relics of our civilisation may well be the rusting hulks of nuclear stations !!!( if we can even call this a civilisation !)
      Lovely to have your encouragement as ever, good friend XXX

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  8. I agree with Cecilia that the internet will not surviving in its free state for very long. Whether that is by government regulation, I doubt. I think the change will come from millions of people who turn their backs to data-grab, privacy invasion, narcissistic over-sharing and all that. I admire you for still writing so much and such personal pieces. Ever since Snowdon broke the news, I suffer from a blog-block. Others too? I can’t get over the fact that Google even stores my own corrections to a text; that they are interested in self-correcting or self-editing. They are building psychological profiles and I do not like that. Maybe you could write a post on how you, a writer, deal with this?

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    • Dear Paula,
      I had no idea that Google stored information to that level of invasion of privacy. I’m gobsmacked. But I also refuse to be intimidated and to have my freedom of thought and action limited by fear.
      How do I feel? Completely powerless, as powerless as I feel about Syria, Guantanamo, Japanese hunting dolphins and whales, about fracking and clearing forests and poaching elephants, and all the other outrages we visit both upon the earth and upon ourselves.
      I don’t write about it because everyone knows these things,and sinking into despond doesn’t help the planet either… so like you, I just try, in that Judaic phrase, to string pearls for heaven. love Valerie

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      • That is a good reflection, Valerie. I try to add some beauty, nature appreciation and mindfulness to the world. Indeed, I should not let ‘somebody’ take that intention away. Thank you and long-distance-hug to you.
        Paula

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  9. Dear Valerie,
    As always, my world is richer for having read more of your past that you so generously share.
    I, too, remember the old cameras. My father would have us pose while he looked down into the lens of the old box camera. I still have the albums with these precious black and whites.
    For years, from a young bride I kept impeccable photo albums. I have priceless photos of my sons’ births, their first birthdays, etc.
    Somewhere along the line, due to circumstances, I started tossing photos in a box, thinking that someday I’d have time to gather them and catch up with my album keeping. Alas, the photos still languish in a box. Like the rest of the world, my most recent photos over the past ten years are digital and “kept” on computer. I still don’t know when I’ll make time for the gathering. It’s a rather daunting prospect as out of hand things are.
    So, dear friend, I’ll wrap it up here with thanks for the nudge and food for the thoughts.
    Shalom and Kia Ora,
    Rochelle

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    • Dear Rochelle,
      Isn’t it interesting, what you describe sounds like so many of us… I even found, and others have agreed, that the careful collating of photos for the first child fell by the way with the added pressures of the next child!
      But at least you have your collections in a box so you can catch up in the distant leisurely future! – not sure when that comes! Lovely to hear from you, Love Valerie

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  10. I’ve had similar thoughts, Valerie, about photographs. I have been collecting daguerreotypes for years, as I find them hauntingly beautiful. To stare into the eyes of someone posing in the 1870’s … I wonder about their life… the old photos are so detailed and beautiful. Today I struggle with how to even store the digital pictures. They tell me that the discs and hard drives will fade away as ‘old tech’ and be unusable, and that photos should be stored “in the cloud”. I dunno …. that reeks of “disappear” to me. My boxes of daguerreotypes capture the past. I think the cloud will dissipate it.

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    • Dear Kathie, how terrible that even hard drives and discs will become obsolete… I find technology a real pain , and have even given up TV because we have to up date ours for some technological improvement .
      Your collection of daguerrotypes sounds beautiful, and as you say will outlast all our flimsy records…. its rather sad isn’t it… there won’t be the memories for our grandchildren if we’re not vigilant.

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  11. Going through old souvenirs is opening a bag filled with mixed emotions. Backward journeys are bittersweet. I especially like your reflection about our new way of taking and storing photos. It’s a question I ask myself often too. And I always keep every passport photo!

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    • It’s been an education reading people’s comments, I’ve learned a lot and am now even more fearful of everything disappearing after reading their knowledgeable comments. Hope your passport photos are better than mine !!!

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  12. My favourite thing to do when I was a child was to go through my parents’ extensive boxes of photos. I don’t know where those boxes have gone now, but you’re absolutely right – taking, developing and then collecting photos is a wonderful thing. I too have pebbles, shells, jewellery and other knick-knacks that transport me to past events and moments in time, or remind me of friends and family members no longer in my life, but photos are a less introspective way to share your past aren’t they. Jx

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    • So good to hear from you Jade…thank you… hope you can track down those precious boxes of your family photos- they are irreplaceable , especially for children and grandchildren to know something of their heritage.
      Yes, isn’t it interesting that the human race still collects pebbles and shells and feathers, as though we all belong to a very old tribe !,

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  13. Oh those awful, awful passport photos. The more advanced the cameras become, the worse the photos get. I am embarrassed to own that the person in my passport is me. Mmmmm……how to store, or preserve, our legacy/photos/jewels/treasures is a tricky issue. I keep things in different formats but it could all be lost one day. However, overall, I think enough of our ‘stuff’ will survive, in some form, to keep archaeologists and historians busy, as they always have been, trying to piece together the mysterious jig-saw of history. Most likely, a lot of what survives will be the detritus of life, but archaeologists love that too.

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  14. You sound very upbeat about our survival Gallivanta… !!! Hope you’re right !

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  15. Isn’t it strange, my grandfather then my father then me, we were the recorders of our family history. I have an antique sea chest full of photo albums, boxes of photos that didn’t make the albums but are still the record of travels and family. I have all my grandfathers and fathers slides, movies, photos and negatives in boxes in a closet waiting for me to scan them, catalog them and save them. Though much of the art on my walls are photos I have taken, I have other collections as well, like you feathers, rocks and shells; collections with memories attached. I also have, like you a lifetime of old passports going back to 1964 and my first trip out of country when I was 7, I smiled and I was missing teeth.

    Valerie, you always remind and always ground us. Your gentle touch is soothing, thank you.

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    • Hello Val, lovely to hear from you… it’s interesting isn’t it. that someone in each generation becomes the family holder of the heritage !…Sounds to me as though you have your work cut out with your collection! Thank you as ever for your generous comment, I really value your ‘take’ on things.. XXX

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  16. Another beautiful post, Valerie! Thank you. 🙂

    Collections of stones, feathers and such are found in our household, as well. All treasured memories.
    Personally, I still like to see my photos in print and your post encourages me to create photo books more often. There are also wonderful possibilites to create such books online and have them sent to our homes, if we wish.

    Much love,
    Steffi

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    • LOvely to hear from you Steffi, isn’t it interesting how we can’t resist the things of the earth to ground our memories… we’re still quite tribal !!!
      It also sounds as though you have lots of work in front of you ! Love valerie

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  17. There will always be feathers and stones and shells, which do an almost better job than the camera at recalling memories. 🙂 A wonderful reflection Valerie and your summer salad sounds unique!

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  18. Reading your post, Valerie, reminded me that I very seldom take pictures of my loved ones. Them I carry in my heart and mind and don’t feel the need to share. I’m not sure what record of myself, if any, will be left behind, other than what my loved ones carry in their hearts and minds. Perhaps that’s enough…xoxoM

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    • Yes, I’m the same, Margarita – they take the photos — somehow I never think of it, and anyway, it doesn’t feel the same on a computer to me!
      But I am glad I have all the albums of the my grandchildren to dream over….

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  19. Valuable treasures Valerie! As we get older, those memories get more and more precious to us! Beautiful collection!

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  20. Great to hear from you Terry, thank you… yes, the memories matter, don’t they – the treasure of our lives gone past…

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  21. Re. rocks, shells, feathers, etc: It is as if you were collecting evidence from the earth that you had a home here- because from childhood, so much was uncertain and unpredictable. People and circumstances could not be relied upon to provide you a stable home: but the earth itself – the earth is stable.

    Or I could be wrong…
    Delighted blessings from Claire

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  22. Hello dear Claire, how lovely to hear from you, what an intriguing and rather romantic theory ! I love it, and think you have several points there!
    Actually I’ve also been fascinated by how many other bloggers also have their collections – no feathers or stones for you Claire?
    I take your delighted blessings in both hands, and send you my love, Valerie

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  23. We live in moments – that is all that we are allowed in our existence. And yet, those things that tie us to those moments become more precious as we come to understand the ephemeral nature of life. What I find most delightful is that as I age, I collect more memories, that can be integrated into the moment and used as I move forward in my timeline. A wonderful post, Valerie. Food for the soul…

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  24. Dear Rebecca, I’m so behind with everything at the moment, apologies for my tardy reply. It’s always a treat to have your perceptive comments, and this one is up to your usual insightful standard! Thank you as ever ! XXX

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