If you’re anything like me, you’ll have cupboards, boxes and bookshelves full of photo albums, forever immortalising the journey from youth to adulthood in a haphazard mishmash of a life chronicled. The first few will be full of the initial endeavours of a young photographer; snapshots of dandelions, paving stones, clouds and windows, captured on a chunky, green plastic camera that began as rolls of film, sent away in an envelope to arrive weeks later on the mat inside the front door. Grainy shots of this and that, the world through the eyes of a child makes way for those of a teenager. Shots of friends, sights, and streets once played upon start to fill boxes to be looked upon a decade later in a quest for evidence: the validity of memories so vivid inside a mind can come into question when an old haunt is visited again. The reality of what is remembered from childhood can be harsh.
I remember each December, as a child, the thrill of getting the boxes of decorations down from the loft; the past eleven months seeming an eternity since I’d last seen them. My parents used to literally deck the halls, stringing up garlands of greenery around the ceilings, covered in red bows and golden bells. The tree would always be huge – always artificial, so nothing had to be cut down, but bushy, big, and covered in lights and ribbon. The memory of everything was so vibrant that, finding those boxes of decorations years later, and seeing them through the eyes of an adult, was disappointing: those same decorations were, in reality, so small and sparse that I had to wonder how they ever seemed so vibrant and rich so many years ago.
The same thing happened to me recently, when I visited home. The streets I grew up on had in childhood seemed so big and full of adventure; we’d gather up all the kids on the street and use the green as our stage, putting on singing, dancing, gymnastics and talent shows for all the neighbours. One side of the street was on a hill, the houses on a slight incline which, years ago, seemed the most exciting thing in the world – we’d gather up all the kids and take our bikes and rollerskates to the top, climbing on the grass, only to hurl ourselves down the pavement as fast as we possibly could. There were cuts and scrapes and bruises, but they proved no match for the exhilaration of the ride untumbled. Walking those same streets only a few weeks ago, I wondered how I ever thought it was so vast, exciting, or dangerous. The hill wasn’t steep, or long, and the walks from my old house to the town centre which had been an entire day out were over within ten minutes. How did the world ever seem so big?
I look to my photos in their books and boxes, and see the evidence en masse. My mind has been playing tricks on me while I wasn’t looking, taking the reality of memories and enhancing them, like a fine wine, making them better, more full of life and character over time than they ever were in the beginning. But I swear it was all real. It was always that way. But these photographs prove otherwise. Do we see the world differently, as a child? Before the world takes a hold of us, shapes us and gives us rules by which to abide, thrusts responsibilities and life lessons upon us along with bills and a work schedule which leaves little room for exploring and imagination? Or was it always that way… and something happens to the memories the further we get away from them. Fact gets mixed up with nostalgia, history with homesickness, reality with reflection, and memories get manufactured into something far brighter and more wonderful than the reality perhaps ever really was. Or perhaps as children, our minds take note of what was considered important at the time. Not the rubbish lining the streets, the jagged paving stones or the neighbours your parents didn’t get along with, but places begging to be filled with adventure. The way the wind felt in your hair as you pedalled as hard as you possibly could. Finding what now would look like two ordinary hills a few minutes from home, which at the time were huge forts just that little bit further, and thus hidden from the world, a secret playground you could run to when you didn’t want to be found.
I’m still not quite sure if the streets, the parks, and the boxes of decorations changed over time, or if the memories did. But I know I can’t be the only one who remembers things in a slightly rosier hue than perhaps was real. And though these photographs attempt to prove otherwise, there’s something quite magical about memories kept from childhood. Have you revisited somewhere, or something, that you’d remembered differently, and been surprised by the reality?
You can also find this post at Becky’s blog, Love Everyday Life, where she ever so kindly asked me to step in today.