One Sunday morning in the spring of 2012, I stood in a church watching people arrive for service. A parishioner who attended every week came into the church and I realised that I could not remember the name of someone to whom I had spoken countless times.
It was an experience so disturbing that I made an appointment to see the doctor. He listened to my story and then said, “what age are you?”
“Fifty-one,” I replied.
“Do you not think that is the reason why you are forgetting things? It’s what happens. As we get older, our powers of memory decline.”
It wasn’t very reassuring advice, but seemed a satisfactory explanation for the number memory blips I had suffered.
Seven years on, and the capacity to forget is as strong as ever, unlike my mother, who has a prodigious memory.
The death of one of her cousins brought a searching of family photo albums for pictures of the man, who had been a farmer at the foot of the Polden Hills. Having many memories of his sister, I wasn’t aware of ever having met him. He had been reclusive when he was young and had become more so when he was older. In recent years, he had gone into nursing care.
Never sure how each part of the family jigsaw fits together, I was not sure of the man’s roots. My mother explained that he had been her first cousin on one side and second cousin on the other, such was the habit of intermarriage in small rural communities.
The cousin’s maternal grandparents had lived at the end of the road on which we live. There had been few houses at the time, but the people who did live here formed a close community. Uncle Jack Cox had kept a cider house in the barn that adjoined his home (I assume he was called by his full name to distinguish him from the other Uncle Jacks in the family).
Cider houses were unlicensed drinking places, rough buildings in which friends and neighbours would gather for conversation and drink. Perhaps they only lasted as long as the cider lasted, perhaps they were more permanent.
The cider house did not meet with the approval of Aunt Florrie, who drew a bucket of water one evening, stepped into the cider house, and threw the water over those assembled – including the local police constable who had stepped in for refreshment.
It was the first time I had ever heard the story. Perhaps being able to recount such tales is a skill built up over years of telling and re-telling. Lacking the capacity even to remember names, it is not one that I would find easy.
No wonder you got on well with Irish people. And had we known you were out of generations of Shebeen owners, well, it would’ve been even better.
And on the memory. You’re grand, forgetting where the keys are is nothing, forgetting what keys are for, is a worry.