Sunday, 31 March 2013

Provocations Bring Back Childhood Memories

A life-long blessing for children is to fill them with warm memories of times together. Happy memories become treasures in the heart to pull out on the tough days of adulthood.  
                                                                                        Charlotte David Kasl

While on a recent business trip to Tasmania I found a shop filled with an eclectic mix of interesting objects. I wandered around reflecting about my age as many of the so called 'antiques' were objects I remember from my youth!! Then I saw it ..... shiny and silver; I tested the handle and it still worked! Vivid childhood memories came flooding back - the sound of metal scraping on metal as you opened it, the smell of hot steam, the reflections of all the shiny metal and of course the heat! I doubt that many other adults wandering through this shop would have had the same reaction to this particular object - an instrument sterilizer!

My father is a Veterinarian although he has been retired for many years; I had just heard that he was gravely ill so my thoughts were very much with my parents so far away in South Africa. As I stood there I was transported back to another era when my father had one of these in his surgery.

Climbing the rough old Mulberry tree outside the surgery window with my brothers, peering in through the slatted glass windows watching my father with his patients while we ate the ripe juicy Mulberries. To see better we would silently try and move the window slats without my father noticing, we also had to avoid getting those ripe mulberries on our clothes - they stain my mum said!
Dogs; big, small, noisy, friendly, scared as well as cats and kittens spitting and hissing or purring. Sometimes there would be birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, parrots, snakes, tortoises and other house pets, I even remember a deer! I was fascinated by everything that I saw and heard  in that surgery.

When I was a bit older I was allowed to come and 'help' in the surgery which made me feel so big and important. I could be present during some surgical procedures, I had to wear gloves, held and passed on the instruments my father needed. The sterilizer was on the counter and I was able to open and close it to get the instruments out although I was not allowed to actually remove the boiling hot instruments. Sometimes when there was not enough water in it the smell changed and the instruments were dry, at other times I had to leave the tray up for a while to allow the instruments to drip dry. I remember the green cloth used to cover the animal to keep the area sterile, I remember the sound of the instruments as they 'clinked' together, I remember the even breathing of the anesthetized animal and I remember my father being fully focused on what he was doing.

I remembered these opportunities so clearly - as if they had happened yesterday although I had not thought of those early years for a long time - all of these triggered by the visual provocation of that instrument sterilizer unexpectedly found in a shop in Tasmania.

Most adults would not have had the same reaction to that instrument sterilizer as we all have different childhood and life experiences but we know that the memories we retain the longest and the best are those linked to just such sensorial experiences. A certain sound, smell, taste, feeling sighting as well as situation can act as the provocation and trigger vivid childhood memories even many years later. These sensory experiences allow long term learning.

As adults we need to ensure that all our children have access to experiences and resources that are highly sensorial  especially in this day and age where children are exposed to so many brightly coloured but basically bland plastic toys as well as over structured opportunities and environments that do not offer children the challenge they crave. These sensorial moments are what build valuable childhood memories. Thank you to my parents for these and many more amazing memories.

“To be in your children's memories tomorrow,
                          You have to be in their lives today.”
                                                                     Barbara Johnson