Memory is a funny mechanism.


I have spoken about memory before. In fact, I have come to realise that memory is an important theme in my writing, both in my blog posts and in my novel (what is my novel about? click here to find out). A quote from Angel’s chapter comes to mind:

Memory is a funny mechanism, it only selects what it thinks is relevant and blurs the rest, stores it in a pile that you might or might not stumble upon at a later time. Snippets of the past waiting in silence for a chance to see the light again, for a trigger to let them out. But I will not let them. I am not ready.

schubert's standchen

Schubert’s serenade at the top of this post is one of the many triggers in my life. I rarely, if never, talk about my paternal grandparents. I suppose this is due to the inevitable link with my father. But the truth is, they were good people. My grandma was Russian, with flamboyant red hair and alabaster skin. Her hair was dyed of course but she had kept a lock of hair from her youth, red as a cherry. She was an architect and a pianist with slender and towards the end, trembling fingers.

My granddad was Bulgarian and an architect too. I can still see his cluttered office at the end of the narrow corridor. There was a balcony looking out to an inner courtyard where cats used to gather and rummage through the bins. It was a disorderly apartment overall. Like the den of two artists. The walls of their bedroom were strewn with hand-woven tapestries, watercolour paintings and Nature Morte. On a wooden credenza by the window, I remember a set of nesting matryoshka dolls and a pile of rust-coloured, autumn leaves we used to collect from the streets. We would place the leaves on white paper then draw a contour before filling in with watercolours.

Childhood memories (Creative Commons) – Russian dolls by Paul Downey

The star of the apartment was the old, grand piano in the living room. My grandma taught me how to play quite a few classics like Beethoven’s Für Elise and other waltzes and serenades like Schubert’s Ständchen above. This particular serenade was my granddad’s favourite. Whenever I played it, he would sit on the sofa nearby and simply listen.

It came up on my shuffle this morning and immediately, the trigger was pulled. I remembered the games of backgammon we shared, the fluffy yet malicious Siamese cat named Mutzi strolling lazily around the apartment. I remembered the wall-mounted, corded phone in the hallway and the fictitious conversations I used to have with “the monkey” (the imagination of a child knows no boundaries).

Now they are both gone. They passed away too young; my father’s constant badgering, drunken appearances in the middle of the night and begging for money wore them out. There were other factors of course, but only this one matters to me.

They are gone but the memory remains in the soft echo of Schubert’s serenade.


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24 responses to “Memory is a funny mechanism.

    • I’m flattered! :)
      To be honest, when I used to spend time at theirs, I was very young. Only later did I realise they were both architects and in addition to my maternal granddad who is also an architect and to whom I am a lot closer, maybe there was an obvious inspiration. All I can say with certainty is that the decision was never conscious!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. That’s interesting. A talented group! I think I have said to you before that I consider architecture the noblest of all professions. Did either your mother or father study architecture?


    • You have indeed. Why do you think that? I always think that medicine or science-related professions are higher up…
      Nope, neither of them did. Looks like I skipped a generation!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Because it affects everyone in some way regardless of their background. The use of space makes a difference to the way we relate, feel, communicate, and experience our homes, neighbourhoods, places of work, and cities.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your post on memory! It touched a familiar chord in my heart. In the writing about my childhood I discovered another aspect of memory. One memory fragment suddenly and unexpectedly triggers another, and you remember things that you truly thought were long forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m really glad you liked it. And you are right, I even considered extending the comparison of memory to Russian dolls. There is something “layered” about it all and that’s what makes our memory such a complex mechanism.


  3. One of the biggest memory trippers for me is light and shadow. I can be deep in the back country of the Rockies and the shadows playing through the aspens sometimes take me to Indiana, my great grandmother’s kitchen, long ago, far away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, that is fascinating. I don’t think I have ever experienced that kind of trigger as it is often a melody or a familiar scent for me.
      Thanks for sharing your trigger :)


      • Years of welding dulled my sense of smell. Maybe that strengthened the visual trigger. But I’ve always noticed that shadows on the wall, sunlight through trees with their fluttering shadows can take me back to places, or change the days from Monday to Saturday.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I love that you notice such details and how they bring you back in time. I’ll make it an aim to be more observant, maybe there are triggers I am yet to discover…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I have to admit I clicked on this because I saw Schubert’s piece. Nonetheless, your writing as a whole struck me… the similarities, the memories… Thanks for this post. I am touched by your writing.


  5. I loved Schubert’s serenade, and also you lovely memories about your grandparents. Their lives, judging from their surroundings, seemed richly lived, in all the ways that matter–music, art, beauty, love. Memory is a strange things. It’s one of the theme’s I’m exploring in my novel–the way we see each other through our memories, or at least those that we chose or chose us, so we always see each other incomplete, because we fail to see so much.


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