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The Weight of Memory Norma Clarke We left England and went back to Jamaica, traveUng as passengers on a cargo ship when I was six years old. My mother, older brother, myself, my younger sister and baby brother traveled together. My father remained behind to complete whatever business there was. Before the ship left port (I don't remember which port—maybe Liverpool) my father came on board to teU us good-bye.We stood in the smaU cabin, my father beside my mother, my baby brother in his pram beside her, and we three older chüdren arraigned before them. I often think of this as my first moment ofknowing and understanding. I saw things which had not impressed me before. I noticed the discomfort in the room when my father spoke. He said something about us taking care ofmy mother, about doing as she said, and about my older brother acting Uke a man. But what I remember most was the feeling that something had descended and tied us up, restricted us somehow. No one moved whüe he spoke. No one interrupted. My mother looked unhappy. She was uncomfortable when my father tried to hug her and kiss her good-bye. She actuaUy pushed him away. We chüdren did not touch him. No good-bye hug or kiss. It seemed to me that we aU breathed more freely when he walked down the gangplank and off the ship. That may have been the first time I suspected my mother did not Uke my father, or been aware of my father's uncertain position in the famüy I am sure there was myriad evidence of this before, but this was the first time I noticed it. I didn't know what to do with the information, but I knew. The voyage marked a curious change in my memories. Prior to the trip each narrowly circumscribed memory is separated by a swath ofdark. When the trip begins memories become broader with a wider range and depth of color. They lengthen, become panoramic, merging into each other across the dark, so that instead of snapshots, I now have longer and longer memories. 148 Norma Clarke149 Life and memory take on a sense ofcontinuity. Whole scenes come together and begin to make sense on a number oflevels. My memory now includes a dawning understanding of the meaning of behavior. I no longer make purely Uteral interpretations of what I see and hear. The difference is so sharp that I am reminded of the way some people who have cataract surgery describe "before" and "after." Suddenly I could see. Sharpness. Definition. The brüliance and nuance of color. The biological underpinnings for this change can probably be found in developmental neurobiology. Complex sections of the brain begin to mature between the ages of five to seven years. Neuroanatomists use the term "association cortex," which describes very accurately what these areas of the brain aUow us to do. We become more able to make associations, interpretive Unks, between multiple pieces of information, audüe, tactile, visual, emotional. Our abüity to connect what we see, hear, and touch, and to understand the relationships between ourselves and others expands exponentiaUy . As our ability to associate increases, the world changes, deepens, becomes layered and textured, more complex. I think of Me as beginning on the ship because that is when I start to understand. That is when I begin to craft a history of my life as interpreted by Me. I begin to see what really lies behind the words that pass over my head. Adults do not always mean what they say, and sometimes what they say means more than what's in the words. Words are more than the sound ofthem. On that trip I begin to think of myself as having knowledge. The curse of some chüdhoods is that children are expected to know only what adults think possible. The rest chüdren learn to keep secret, so that chüdhood is burdened with secrets. The knowledge of chüdren, hidden in memory , sinks below the surface, faUing for a time into a dark, süent zone, traiUng the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1544-1733
Print ISSN
1522-3868
Pages
pp. 148-155
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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