Conversations about Memory

My father had an excellent memory that he exercised often.  He remembered dates, figures, names and faces, events and patterns. What was amazing was that he had an excellent memory of his visits to Greece, where he spent six or eight weeks a year. These memories filled his life.

He was a good conversationalist and a good story teller. Not that he wanted to be the centre of attraction, but he was when he told a story. I suppose this blog is about those stories.

But his good memory was more than that… He created or precipitated or anticipated the event that would create the memory. He would gather as much information as possible about the event and people before hand, and then he would participate in the event, retell the story many times afterwards, so that it was committed to memory.

I suppose one of the other aspects of his good memory is that he never allowed poisonous people to drag him down. He just cut them off, and did not see them nor speak to them. There were not many people like that, a handful perhaps. There were many people that he had disagreements with; sometimes they agreed to disagree and still things worked out.

He had another unusual aspect of memory. One does not see that around much today: the inherited memory. He had this huge repository of information of the village in Greece from his father, Uncle Piet and his mother. His other cousins who came out later from the village also helped  create this vision of Arcadia for him, so that when he went there for the first time in his thirties it was almost like he knew every church, every family and even the position of the headstones in the small cemetery on the hill, surrounded by tall cypress trees.

His memory would be expanded at the kafeneio, when he sat and caught up the previous day’s events, or when they played cards in the evening, and he used the numbers and suites to sharpen his mind. A great repository of historical memory came from Old man George Simbonis. He was really my father’s best friend, even though he was a generation ahead and was almost a contemporary of my grandfather. My father would see him every day he was in the village, and spend an hour just chatting. Going over the details of some past event, of current Greek politics, of world politics or of family politics. The Old Man always had a sparkle in his eye and knowingly raised his arthritic finger to his temple, his sharp blue eyes close, when he made a point, with a sweet smile that was almost feminine but probably came from an Arcadian forebear called Diotima.

Yes, memory can extend that far back, to the ancients, in our collective unconscious. Not all of us can tap into that power. The noise of modern living distracts us from the roots of the past and we easily lose our way.

Surreal Sea

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