It seems the things which linger most in our minds are childhood memories. Our simplistic rendering of events as they occurred, supplemented by the passage of time, produce disjointed snapshots of history. Much like my amateur photo stash, these recollections are hazy, discoloured, and out of context, with an occasional glimpse of in-focus, sharp reality. The fragmented memories fit together in a carefully constructed mosaic of life.
Many years ago, we – Mum, Dad, my sister and I – lived in an old Queenslander* in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. It was divided in two and adapted for flats, front and back. We lived in the rear half of the house, high set and overlooking a corner of the local football field.
The yard was large, like most old places. Dad’s mowing produced a huge mound of grass clippings which my sister and I would dive into, rolling around and laughing, oblivious to thoughts of the inevitable itching that would follow.
An old shed squatted in the back corner of the yard, its tin roof bowing under a thatch of dark vine. One window – a rough hole in the wall framed by a few pieces of wood – showed a dim interior. Usually tempted by prospects of a good cubby house, we avoided this structure for its gloomy presence.
A frangipani tree spread its heavy scent throughout the air in summer. The strength of the fragrance cost the tree strength in its limbs, it seemed, as we soon discovered the brittle branches were not appropriate for climbing on. A mature jacaranda nearby provided a better scaffold to explore. Sometimes we would come across the translucent case of a cicada’s old skin, hollow legs still clinging to the bark, a memento of its visit one warm morning. Draping myself high in the branches I would take the challenge to jump out of the tree. Lowering my body, and holding on to a branch, I would hang, feeling gutless and regretful. The distance between my eyes and the ground was enough to convince me of the dangerous landing in store, but as my fingers slipped off the rough bark and I landed with a jolt, I’d realise that the ground wasn’t so far away after all.
Night-time was always evocative, especially with the intensity of summer. Sometimes Dad fired up the brick barbeque in the back yard, and the sound and smell of sausages frying would fill the air. A vast hibiscus hedge along the fence-line made a backdrop for the ritual, and magically harboured tiny sparkling fire-flies. We danced like brolgas trying to catch the creatures. Later on, in bed, I listed to flying foxes screech as they settled in the mango tree, feasting on its fruit.
The years have slipped off the calendar now, and sometimes I drive around the old neighbourhood and sadly take in the changes. The shopping centre up the road no longer exists, just the bumpy carpark, a patchwork of bitumen repairs. My old high school was also knocked down, its hillside a prime site for a fancy housing estate. The house we lived in is barely hanging in there, the yard having been amputated to allow a neat brick house to squeeze in alongside.
I try not to live in the past, but my memories have immeasurable value. They remind me of where I came from and how I became the person I am today. I am reassured that God is a fellow sentimentalist, for He says, “ I will never forget you, see: I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15,16 NIV) No matter how far I wander, how long I spend away from Him, God will always remember me and long for me.
He encourages me to dwell on my memories of Him, also. “Be careful… so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.” (Deuteronomy 4:9 NIV) Special experiences with God are to be filed in my memorabilia drawer and looked at often and fondly. Incidents such as my desperate prayer for a lost pet mouse which was answered immediately, when I was 6…. My revelations of an omnipotent God while marvelling at nature…. The insights I’ve gotten as I’ve read the Bible and the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart…. These snapshots of my life with God: these are precious memories, of which God says, Never forget… never forget.
* A style of house associated with the warm Queensland climate – wooden with high ceilings, and set on stumps to allow cooling air to circulate, and bordered by verandahs to block the sun from the main body of the house.