In Search of a Childhood Memory

 


Memories are like relatives.  Some are close and always with you, many others are distant and have faded away.  Out of sight, out of mind.  But if you want to get back in touch with a long lost relative, there are state-of-the-art electronic tools at your disposal on the internet (e.g., Google  and social media) not to mention the good old fashioned telephone book.  How does one resurrect a memory that’s buried deep in the attic of your brain?

Flipping through some old photo albums recently, I was reminded of several family vacations from my childhood that still bring back fond memories.  We didn’t have much money in those days and didn’t travel often so the times we did were particularly special.  And the trips were not to exotic locations but rather fairly close to home in our very own “backyard” of Upstate New York.

When I was about 4 yrs old we took a trip to the Finger Lakes region where we stayed in a rustic cabin near Watkins Glen and took day trips to the various State Parks in the region (Watkins Glen, Havana Glen, Robert Tremen, Buttermilk Falls, Taughannock), Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, and other notable sites like the Corning Glass Works and the Watkins Glen International Speedway.

Next we travelled up to Niagara Falls where we hiked under the falls, took the boat ride on the Maid of the Mist which gets so close to the falls they hand out rain coats and dined at a restaurant overlooking the falls on the Canadian side.

We liked it so much, we went back again three years later on our way to dropping off my sister at college in Oswego, NY (where she went for one year before transferring to U of Wisconsin).  I mention that only because the occasion of her college graduation in Madison was the inspiration for another enjoyable family vacation.

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This photo of me as a 7 yr. old playing with an arrowhead spear in front of our rented Cabin # 61 in Watkins Glen (along with several others in the slide show at the end of the piece) was enough of a stimulus to bring back a few fragmented memories that are now about 60 years old.  It made me curious about those times and long for an opportunity to reminisce.

As fate would have it, just a few days later my brother called telling me he was planning a short get away with Stella, his dog and was thinking abut visiting some of the vacation spots from our youth.  Bingo!  What better opportunity to seek out these fragments and perhaps dust off a few more memories to help piece together this elusive jigsaw puzzle.

At the time, neither of us recalled the name of the place where we stayed but thanks to the internet machine I was able to reconstruct that it was (and still is, since it’s still in business!) called Seneca Lodge.

The other day we got a video of our grandson exploring a children’s museum and having a blast.  He’d been there before and clearly, whether through direct recall or (more likely) repeated iPhone video viewings, he too was in search of a “childhood” memory.  In his case the earlier memory was from just three years prior… but in the life of a 4.5 yr. old, that’s an eternity.  So when he arrived at the location in the museum where the earlier memory originated, he gleefully reenacted his prior actions, down to the hand gestures and expression on his face.  Part of the reenactment was just plain good 3 yr. old fun and part was a desire to ham it up for future audiences as the camera was (of course) rolling again.

Here’s the original memory from our grandson’s early childhood that he went looking for:

And here’s the reenactment:

This level of detail would not be possible without the repetitive observation of the moment to reinforce whatever the brain’s neuron network may have stored.  All memories are subject to reinforcement – even before the advent of the smart phone video which allows the capture of every last moment of our waking day, we relied on external reinforcement of memories.  Certainly the mundane black and white photo albums or relatively rare 8 mm film of my generation’s childhood days added some shellac to images captured in our brains.  But I digress… back to the story.

My brother and I quickly decided that an invitation to our sister to join us in on our journey was in order.  Dates were checked and plans were quickly assembled.  While plenty of information about Seneca Lodge is accessible on the web, they prefer the “old school” approach to handle availability and reservations,  i.e., via telephone and snail mail.  A bit of an inconvenience but reassuring that the rustic experience we so fondly recall has been well preserved.  At any rate, before I knew it my brother was all over it and had several cabins booked.    So in one short week we depart in search of this childhood memory!!  Who knows what we’ll find or how this reenactment will play out?  Stay tuned for Part II…


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wonderful. I especially enjoyed the photos of the family which brought back memories for me also.

    Editor’s response: Thanks Jack.

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  2. That’s wonderful, Paul! Can’t wait for the next chapter, and see some compare-contrast pictures!

    I was recently talking with my daughter Julia and her BF Dan about their earliest memories. We all agreed that seeing photos renders them suspect – for example, we always tell a family story about Julia being alternately repelled and attracted by a guy in a Cookie Monster suit – but we do have pictures of the event which surely lodged in her brain.

    One of our most memorable Lloyd family vacations was to Boothbay Harbor, Maine. When Brian and I honeymooned there some 30 years after the original trip, we found the Topside Hotel intact! My father attested to that – we brought him along, and his girlfriend, and their two friends, and my best friend. Who would want to spend a two week honeymoon alone together? Not us.

    And my brother Spencer ended up building a home in Pemaquid, close to the Boothbay peninsula. I’m just glad we didn’t vacation in Oklahoma!

    Editor’s response: Thanks Eileen. Sounds like you’ve had some memorable times in Boothbay Harbor, but your unusual honeymoon floats to the Top(side) of the list.

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  3. When I saw the Polaroid of you at age 7, you reminded me facially of Noah immediately. So it was fun to scroll down and find you relating to Noah in the very next section. If we don’t talk first, have a great trip!

    Editor’s response: Thanks Steve, I often see both his mom’s side and dad’s side in Noah’s face and expressions. Genes are very cool.

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