Saturday, May 17, 2008

The past is a foreign country

We interpret it in different ways from varying perspectives depending on our experiences at the time.

And this is true of “The Children of Craig-y-nos”.

What to one child was a horrific experience - like having a gastric lavage to another was merely “something they did to you...”

Also, it is possible for one person to have different memories of the same event depending on who they are talking to and the time lapse between the stories.

I came across a clear-cut case of this today while editing one story.

Doris ( not her real name) was in Craig-y-nos in the late 1940s “for observation."

She first contacted me about a year ago . These are some of her memories :

On Dr Huppert
“That short limpy woman? she was nasty! I was petrified of her. She shouted at me to get my pinky curlers out of my hair.”

1947 blizzard

“Some were moved indoors but I was kept on the balcony during the blizzard. My Gran asked if it was right that we should be left out there in those conditions and she was told that it was part of the treatment.

gastric lavage
“ I used to have a tube pushed down into my stomach. I don't know what for.”

Five months later she gave an official oral history recording and I had to double-check that it was the same person.

“I remember Dr Huppert. She was short and used to walk with a limp and you could hear her coming, like, but she was good.”

“My mother did ask why we were out, but I don't think I was out there the next time they came because they (sanatorium staff) told them then that that was the treatment.”

“And I had this tube thing going down. It's only to sort of make you heave and make you get up whatever it is. It wasn't too bad.”

It is just that the second version in all these accounts has become sanitised. I had been warned that this would happen in recording memories of people.

It is not that people are being economical with the truth but the simple fact that the more we talk about the past the safer it becomes, a haven, a place of nostalgia.

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