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Reform Magazine | December 1, 2023

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On the pilgrim way: ‘We began to talk of those no longer with us’

Sheila Maxey on bittersweet memories

Going down memory lane can be a bittersweet experience. We have recently spent 10 days in the Black Forest, in a holiday house which belongs to part of my German family. We have had many holidays there in the past 15 years, mostly in autumn with the brilliant colours of the deciduous trees set against the dark pines, but on one occasion in late March we were in deep snow. We have walked many miles, up and up, to get superb views and to rejoice in the hospitality of the mountain Hutte with their good beer and thick soups. But no longer. This time we drove around taking pleasure in remembering the past but there was, inevitably, some sadness that our hill walking days seem to be over.

At the start of our holiday I had organised a gathering on the outskirts of Stuttgart to celebrate our international family. We invited all those with whom we are in some kind of contact – from Christmas cards to regular visits – and I asked them to bring a few significant photos to share. Eighteen of us sat down to lunch and, between courses, began to share photos and experiences. An 88-year-old cousin set the ball rolling by remembering a wonderful month in her childhood which she spent with my family in Scotland: the year was 1937! A slightly younger cousin remembered her huge sense of privilege when, in 1949, she left war-devastated Germany to spend nine months in Scotland. Then, the next generation began to tell stories of highlights from their memory stores – joining a UK extended family holiday in the Lake District in 1976, bringing a church youth choir to camp near us and sing at a barbecue in our garden, bringing a teenage son for a fi rst experience of London and watching the sun setting on the Thames from the top of the Oxo Tower. And as the stories went on, they began to include references to dear ones no longer with us – accounts of London tours with a beloved uncle of mine, funny but admiring stories about my father, memories of bringing a string quartet to play in my sister’s church hall.

The room was full of laughter and, as we circulated over coffee, contacts were renewed, some even made for the fi rst time as the two German families descended from my mother’s two sisters are not all that close. One of the younger generation now has two daughters living far away in Berlin – and, it so happens, two of the UK family’s 20-somethings live in Berlin – so every effort was going to be made to put them in touch and try to keep the family international for yet another generation.

There was nothing bittersweet about that day, so full of memories. I think that was because we accepted our place in something that was ‘from generation to generation’.

Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform


This article was published in the December 2016/January 2017 edition of  Reform.

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