October 28, 2019

Is memory a courier of fake news?

Gordon Robertson

Washing The Lemons,

My mum never washed lemons. When she made jam, almost always in early autumn, she’d use brambles and blackcurrants, gooseberries sometimes, but never lemons. And yet that’s what my memory – that courier of fake news – sees, over and over again. What it wants to see. Why?

After my mum died, aged 84, my youngest daughter said of her: Memories are like friendships, we’ll always have them. As though memories were physical things one could visit, return to, trust, and fall back on in times of doubt or worry. But how to reconcile that with the fact that friendships – like memories – fade? They weaken and break. They become unreliable witnesses to a past we inevitably conjure up in a nostalgic haze, causing us to wonder whether this unreliability – this suspension of disbelief – could ever be anything other than a barrier to our understanding of what actually happened back then, what we felt, and who we were.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps it’s enough that, in remembering something, we’re not forgetting everything. And perhaps my invocation of an endless maternal summer is my sandcastle defence against the agonising quickness of her death.