Wednesday, September 9, 2009

August assignment: Earliest Memories


Our earliest memories are usually a collage of images, rather than a coherent narrative. Scenes saved on our personal hard-drive for so many years, surviving the ‘brown-outs’ and ‘crashes’ of an over-crowded and sometimes alcohol abused brain, imply a potent trigger for their initial capture.
A World War II black-out curtain features in my earliest memories. All homes in Great Britain were required to have them to deny assistance to German bombers at night. As a two year old I would invariably be in bed by the time the ‘black-out’ was installed so the only time I would be aware of the heavy black curtains would be during dangerously close bombing raids. My older sister and I would be wrapped in blankets, carried downstairs and placed on a mattress in a Morrison Shelter for safety. I came to associate those curtains with trouble.
No amount of soothing assurances from caring parents could fool a two-year-old snatched from sleep. If there was nothing to worry about, why had I been plucked from a warm bed? Why the frantic huddle down the stairway – and why was I imprisoned in a steel cage?
The Morrison Shelter was a crush-proof structure which doubled as a table. Covered with a dainty table cloth, it was barely noticeable, just another place for us kids to play or hide in during the day but a place of refuge on bad nights.
The night I remember most clearly, perversely, was a night of confusion. Thunderstorms which had been brewing all day, broke overhead as the air raid sirens began their nightly wail. Soon the sonic boom of lightning strike was competing with the thump of exploding bombs. The black-out curtain which prevented light from leaking out also blocked the flashes of lightning sneaking in, leaving only the terrifying sounds to distinguish the source of attack. A direct hit by a bomb in the neighbourhood was invariably followed by the sound of shattering glass and the clatter of slates cascading off a roof. Lightning strikes merely left thunder to bounce off the low lying clouds.
Cowering in our shelter, I discovered a method of distinguishing one agent of death from another: the black-out curtain billowed slightly from the blast of a nearby bomb. Lightning, no matter how close it sounded, merely made it shake for a second.
Fear, like a bossy sister, was relative.



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