Tuesday 23 April 2019

Bairbre Power: 'I'm filling a memory box for my granddaughter so she can see how we lived'

Mid Life

Bairbre Power
Bairbre Power
No one has a telephone on a table in their hall anymore
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

I'm a sucker for nostalgia. Most of the time, I prefer old things to new and that stretches in a wide loop across everything in my life, from fragrances to books, castle breaks to recipes on how to achieve the best roast chicken.

This week, I luxuriated in an indulgent, laughter-filled leap back in time. The occasion was dinner with my best friend while she was home on holidays from Seattle, and her mother, with an amazing eye for detail and remarkable recall, came too. We hooted with laughter over our exploits and the adventures we managed to trigger, and the ones that got away from us. We served and volleyed memories back and forth across the table with cries of, "Remember the time...". There was the summer we were off to make our fortune in a German canning factory, but as fate would have it, the tomato crop failed so we were grounded and I was back on the phone making other plans to earn my college fees.

Good lord, the hours I spent sitting at the little telephone table in our hall at home, dialling endless numbers and frantically looking up numbers for a family friend in London to see if she could take me in for six weeks.

The nostalgia trip in the restaurant sparked something in my brain because as I went home in the cab last Tuesday, I felt like I was propelled backwards into my own colourful past. By the time I got home, I burst into the hall to look at where the telephone table used to be. It was always kept so tidy and smelt of Pledge furniture polish. There was a spring-loaded A-Z address book sitting on top of phone directories which, in turn, sat under a triptych of weather barometer, hanging clothes brush and a holy water font.

There, instead, was now an untidy heap of shopping bags, odd shoes and dog leads. I swung around to guilt myself further and opened the door to what had been the 'good room' when I was growing up. It was always guaranteed to look tidy if someone arrived unannounced, like the priest calling to collect the Easter dues.

I felt a deep pang of guilt. The couch had morphed into an overflow wardrobe after I emptied the contents of my Milan Fashion Week suitcase on to it before dashing out the door on another flight. There were remnants of Christmas decorations living in a box in the corner and the haphazard manner in which the curtains had been drawn would have sent my house-proud Granny into paroxysms of shock to which her usual default was to throw her eyes up to heaven and bless herself.

Making myself an angry cup of tea, I sat down and thought about how maybe our parents and grandparents had the right idea after all with their systems, which I laughed at when young. But they were right about so many things, and that includes checking if someone had turned off the immersion. I didn't once - it burned out and cost me a fortune to boot. And take the phone table for instance. With the fixed line, you knew where the phone was 24/7 as opposed to racing around the house trying to find it. But how many of us have a fixed phone in the house now?

This nostalgia thing got me thinking about setting up a memory box for Lily, my granddaughter. Yes, I want to keep things in order, like chronological photographs, but the social historian in me wants to save things to show her how previous generations used to live.

Into the kitchen cupboards, I dived, and found old milk bottles. I'm also going to put in pipe cleaners because that's what Lily's paternal great-great grandmother used to curl her hair with at night in Cork.

Add to that a shoe horn that her grandmother's father brought from his family shop in Clonmel. And I'll add old family knitting needles and an old radio to which I used to listen to Radio Luxembourg under the eiderdown.

Eiderdown! Now there's another blast from the past.

So I spent the bank holiday weekend curating Lily's time capsule. I'm even tempted to put in a rubber duck because who knows if they'll have baths in the compact houses of the future? That's the thing about taking everyday items for granted - you never know when they're going to disappear forever.

Irish Independent

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