With the end of November we enter the season of memory, a time when memory is no longer an abstract explanation in a scientific journal, but a version of Dickens’ past, present and future ghosts, an actual presence in our lives.

Wherever we set a festive table, for however many, that table will be crowded with absent faces, removed by distance or death, but present, still, in our hearts.

Each familiar face becomes a collage of past and present incarnations. Somewhere inside that gawky awkward teen age boy there is the bright-eyed three-year old imp, who never tired of peekaboo. That fifteen year old (going on thirty), filled with adolescent angst is still the innocent who thought her mother could cure all her problems with a kiss. The arthritic knuckle of the oldest in the room contains generations of history, some of it still untold. I may wear the gloss of sophistication but, at heart, I am still the little girl from Port Credit. We may remake ourselves as we go through life, but our pasts remain a constant.

Whatever the menu, however fancy, cooked by me, or someone else, in my heart’s eye, I will see the plain cloth-covered white bowl in which my mother delivered her annual brandy soaked pudding; I will smell mincemeat; taste my father’s pulled taffy. This one meal will be accompanied by a lifetime of meals served at other tables, some very plain, others, elaborate, all permeated with the bitter sweetness that is life.

The bells of the Salvation Army will take me back to other bells: wind chimes on the porch of a log cabin in Maine, morning calls to mass in Manhattan, the caroling chimes of St. James in Toronto on Christmas Eve, the jingle of the reins of a horse-drawn sled at a Quebec inn, Big Ben resounding through a London fog; bells, tolling away the years, but not the memories of holidays past.

The seasonal music evokes a cascade of memory. Almost fifty years later, I can still see and hear my children, singing “Away In A Manger”; my mother, tearing up at “Silent Night”, a voice crooning, “I”ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me….”

He won’t, of course, be home, and that is why “Auld Lang Syne” resonates.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And days o’ lang syne!

 

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere,

And gie’s a hand o’ thine,

And we’ll tak a right guid willie-waught

For auld lang syne!

And days o’ lang syne!

Yes, this is the season of memories. For those who have recently experienced the death of someone beloved, it will be the beginning of what I call “the year of the terrible firsts”. Their loss will be real, sharp, acute, at moments, unbearable. As the weeks, months, years pass, we who are left learn to bear the unbearable: the pain is there, but hidden from view, held back by the determination to not spoil someone else’s day. In that sense, we become martyrs to our grief.

In this season of memories, we need to remind ourselves that for every goodbye, there was a hello, and aren’t we glad that we had those hellos, those days of auld lang syne?

The season of memories: a time to cherish what once was and, in some ways, always will be.

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