Fond memories of childhood often come to mind. I linger with them, enjoy them, and sometimes even write about them.
There are plenty of unpleasant memories from childhood as well, but I choose not to dwell on them. Each time one of those memories has arisen over the years I’ve chosen to grab hold of it and place it in a file located in a far corner of my mind, titled, “Not for Public Viewing or Dissemination.”
There was a time when reminiscing with a family member or friend that I would not hesitate to recall and relive one of those unpleasant childhood memories, until one day I realized that doing so was of very little benefit to me or the other person. The same may be said about the lack of value in recounting unpleasant memories that have come my way as an adult, many of which I have managed to create myself.
Granted, there can be some benefit in recounting an unpleasant memory from childhood, or yesterday. Doing so can be a healthy part of grieving. It can also be a means of gaining wisdom for making future choices – to not make the same mistake twice.
However, if recounting our unpleasant memories serves no purpose beyond self-pity or playing a game of “bad-experience one-upmanship,” doing so is wasteful at best, and at worst self-destructive. Like a pig wallowing in the mud, wallowing in self-pity may feel good while we’re doing it but when we’re done we’re still a mess. And I would add – a mess that no one wants to be around.
Sadly, some individuals have an abundance of unpleasant memories from childhood and even adulthood. To describe their memories as “unpleasant” is inadequate, even unfair. Many of their memories are horribly bad, and it is not my intention to dismiss or discount the hurt of those memories. Still, beyond the benefit of recounting bad/unpleasant memories as part of a therapeutic recovery process, it is best, and healthy, to file them under “Not for Public Viewing or Dissemination.”
The best way to avoid continually reliving unpleasant memories is to focus on the happy memories of childhood. We all have some, even though they may be fewer in number. For example, I have an abundance of unpleasant memories about my Mom – enough to fill a heartwrenching book – but I have filed them in that far corner of my mind, choosing instead to focus on the happy memories.
Mom was a hilarious storyteller. She never let the truth get in the way of a good story (sounds familiar). She was also a good cook; not fancy but good – cornbread and soup beans, grits and bacon with eggs over easy, silver dollar pancakes, fried chicken, fried potatoes and slaw, fried green tomatoes, fried mush (you name it and she fried it), homemade egg noodles, and chocolate mayonnaise cake. These are the memories of Mom that I choose to recall and enjoy.
The “Not for Public Viewing or Dissemination” file on my Stepdad is not nearly as full as Mom’s, though there are a few items in it. The happy memories of my Stepdad are simple ones. Perhaps fondest of all is the memory I have of the comforting smell of his work cap.
As I’ve written about in the past, Dad worked at Bernie’s junkyard. It was a sweaty, dirty job that showed in his work clothes, including his cap. When Dad arrived home each evening the first child to reach him – usually a race between my sister and me – would get to wear his cap, which he would lift from his head and place on the head of the winner.
It may sound silly, but the smell from the oils and sweat of Dad’s cap had a sweet aroma that gave me a peculiar sense of comfort and security. Sometimes this sense of comfort extended into the evening as I sat on the floor between his tall knees, wearing his cap as we watched Father Knows Best, or whatever else was on television.
Today’s actions are tomorrow’s memories. Among the short list of principles I try to live by each day is trying to make choices that will create fond memories for me and for those I interact with. Memories are made of this.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.