I don’t know if memory covers it or not. It’s when some offhand word or phrase or more likely a couple of bars of music, especially if complete with words, brings back not just a happening, but the totality of an experience from the distant past.
You are immediately blanketed with the strong feelings, positive or negative, and the heightened awareness of what happened or what you felt back then. If you close your eyes you are back there. For me that awareness is usually a beautiful euphoria.
For me, too, that emotional and mental awareness from the past is most often brought on by a song from that time. And when it happens I’m usually not expecting it so that it builds inside me very quickly.
I should give you an example so that you have some idea what I’m talking about.
An old friend who has since passed on used to tell us with delight of hearing my sister and me passing his house on our way home from school and singing at the top of our lungs, “Ou ‘Tan’t Be Twue, Dear” (“You can’t be true, dear — there’s nothing more to say, I trusted you, dear, hoping we’d find a way. Your kisses tell me that you and I are through, but I’ll keep loving you, although you can’t be true”).
I hear that rarely now, but when I do I can even smell the trees along that beautiful road that led to the manse in Moreton’s Harbour and see Lewis’s CCM bike propped up against his steps as we passed by.
I’ll give you an even stronger example from a song that was popular in my adolescence.
It was sung by Eddie Fisher and called “Oh My Papa” (to me he was so wonderful. When I hear it, I still remember the day my father took me out of school when I was only seven or eight to go rabbit hunting with him.
It was only that one time, but it was enough. I remember the songs he’d sing as we drove home on the horse and slide — “Take You Home Again Kathleen” and “Danny Boy” — and still experience the strong smell of the horse trotting ahead of us.
He and my mother were invariably stood up in the snow at the edge of the pond when I was trying to play hockey with the older boys. And they were in the Gander stadium for the last game I ever played as an adult.
I never hear that Eddie Fisher song without choking up.
There is an old hymn that brings my mother back to me the same way because no mother was ever more loving to a child than mine was to me.
We don’t hear it that often anymore, but it’s called “Suppertime.”
Many of the early experiences of childhood are wrapped up in that song for me and the smells of supper on the table come back as real as they were then.
It’s strange, but there were several other songs associated with the early years of my life, many of which I still remember off by heart, but only the ones I’ve mentioned are enough to bring back the whole experience of a special time in all its many facets and emotions.
Not all your memories realized through song are pleasant.
I was 17 and and had just gotten my driver’s licence in Halifax. I had driven the city streets quite often with my father and knew the traffic lanes and patterns quite well. But now it was time for me to go solo. I don’t think either my father or mother were very happy about it, but finally they agreed I could take the car that night. Tremendous.
I splurged and put $2 worth of gas in the beautiful ’55 Chevy and started out.
In less than an hour I had seven teenagers aboard, equally divided between the sexes. Three girls in the front seat with me, four boys in the back. The driver of the vehicle had considerable authority about where people sat. We headed out over St. Margaret’s Bay Road with the joie de vivre that only people that age and in that circumstance can know.
It was well after dark and extremely foggy when we headed back toward Halifax. The road was narrow and twisting, but I hardly noticed because I was getting friendly with the young woman sitting next to me. She was crowded so close up against me that driving was a bit of a challenge, but I don’t remember either of us complaining.
I do remember the song playing on the radio. It was “Twilight Time”, the big new hit by The Platters. And I remember the furious blowing of horns. I looked up in time to see a large transport truck emerging out of the fog. I knew I was driving too fast and on the wrong side of the road.
I gave a desperate twist of the wheel to the right and the car went up on the two wheels on that side. The transport roared by, horns still blaring, somehow missing us with nothing to spare. We were headed for the edge of the highway and I twisted again to the left and the car gave an experimental rush in that direction. Now we were back in the left lane again, but thankfully nothing was coming from that direction and after a few more swerves we were slow enough that I could get control of the vehicle back again.
I pulled over to the side of the highway and didn’t speak for a long moment. I couldn’t.
We had stared death in the face and somehow avoided him. I was trembling violently and two of the girls in the front seat hadn’t stopped screaming. The one closest to me hadn’t realized anything was wrong, which I suppose was quite a compliment to me as a driver and as a, you know, companion. “Twilight Time” was still doing its thing.
I knew that my carelessness had almost killed perhaps all of us, and it was one of the great lessons of my life. Never again did I allow myself to be in that position — at least while I was driving — or to be driving faster than road conditions dictated.
But I never hear that song again without my guts twisting in a hard knot at the realization of what might have been.
“Memory” is what moulds us into what we are.
Ed Smith is an author
who lives in Springdale.
His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.