Catching Memories and Seeing Stars: a project ….

This is an idea that’s been growing for a while.

It started when I read ‘A Hundred Pieces of Me’ by Lucy Dillon. When Gina and her husband split up she moved to a lovely new flat, and she vowed to clear out all of the ‘things’ that she had acquired over the years and live a simpler life.

I thought that I should do that. Because I’m living with my own things and a lot of my mother’s things, that she has left behind but I can’t quite let go. I have to find a way of separating what was my parents’ history that I have to let go and what was my own family history that I have to hold.

And when a friend gave Gina the idea of photographing her memories, well that have me the idea of photographing and writing a little about the things I have to let go. So I can hold on to the memories and let go of the clutter.

Author Jane Johnson brought the idea to the front of my mind when I heard her speak at the Penzance Literary Festival last month. She suggested that there were two kinds of people: the kind who want to seek out the exotic and the kind who want to gather the familiar around them. she’s the former and I’m the latter. but a thought came into my head. Those of us who gather the familiar also need the space to gaze at the stars and dream.

Hence the title.

So there will be occasional posts – some short and some long – some bookish and some not – about the things I’m letting go, the things I’m sending out into the world to find new homes.

This is the first.


I was still at school when my mother acquired and read a paperback copy of ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’. She loved it, and when my mother loved a book she would always encourage everyone she knew who she thought might like it to read the book too, happily offering up her own copy.

We lost a lot of good books over the years that way, but I have to love my mother’s generosity of spirit in that and other ways. She would give anything to anyone who she thought might need it.

My father read the book too and then it came to me. It took me a few attempts, but eventually I read it from start to finish. I liked it, though not quite as much as my mother had.

She read it again, and the next few books in the series made it home in paperback editions.

My father bought my mother the fourth book – ‘The Plains of Passage’ – in hardback, because she continued to love Ayla and she was impatient to know how her story played out.

I was living in London in 1992, and usually when I rang home I spoke most to my mother. She and my brother were on the chatty, outgoing wing of my family; my father and I were on the quiet, introverted wing. But one day in early December my father got to the phone first. I remember him saying that he hoped the new Auel book would be out for Christmas so that he could get it for my mother.

It wasn’t, so he couldn’t.

But that conversation stuck in my mind. Because it was the last telephone conversation we had before my father – who was never ever ill – was diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer that killed him just a few weeks after that diagnosis.

Because I remembered that conversation I made a mental note to get my mother that book immediately it was published.

It was years later, but I did get the book, and I did explain why.

We both read it, and we were both disappointed, agreeing that the story wasn’t progressing, that there was too much repetition, too much unnecessary detail, and that there was a heck of a lot left to cover in the sixth and final book of the author’s planned series.

Many more years would pass before the next and final book – ‘The Land of Painted Caves’ – was published. Advance word wasn’t good. My mother had become mentally frail – we didn’t use the dementia word then – I still don’t and I don’t think I ever will – but she was in the early stages – and she was reading very little. But I thought that the this book would strke a chord.

It didn’t. She hadn’t read a novel for a while before that and she hasn’t finished one since. She still loves the idea of books, she still picks them up with the idea of reading them, she still wantes to know about the books I read, but somewhere along the way she lost something of what it takes to read a novel.

I realised that I didn’t want to read ‘The Land of Painted Caves’ either. Because as I read more about the book I came to realise that the author’s vision for her series of books didn’t match mine.

And I think – actually I think I can say I know – that it wouldn’t have matched my mother’s.

So the books can go and the memories can stay.

The last novel that my mother read was ‘Little Boy Lost’ by Marghanita Laski. That feels right, because she mentioned, when she saw my Persephone copy, that her mother had loved Marghanita Laski. And so I gave her the book – which I loved too. She loved it, and she shared my copy with a number of friends before it finally found its way home to my Persephone bookcase ….

16 responses

  1. Very sad reading. My mother never became frail but her dementia got worse and worse to the extent that, although she knew I had written three books, she had no idea I had published them as I used a pen name. As she was not always aware of who this strange lady was who came to visit her in the care home I suppose it was not surprising.

  2. This is such a lovely post. I really like the idea of photographing and writing about things you need to let go of – I imagine it could be quite a cathartic process. Thank you for sharing your memories of the books 🙂

  3. I share memories of the Clan of the Cave bear series too, in that my parents both loved and read the books. Alas, my father can no longer enjoy books after two strokes, but my mother still reads when she can find the time. I think your project sounds lovely – I have still to inherit what my parents will leave behind, but mother is a clearing-out sort of person so I think she will do much of the job for me. In some ways, that makes me a little sad, but in some ways not. Good luck with the project – we hoarders do need to see the stars at times!

  4. I love this idea and I love this post. It is a worthwhile project for so many reasons. I hope that it helps you let go of items while hanging on to what they represent. I look forward to seeing future posts.

  5. What a lovely post. I remember enjoying The Clan of the Cave Bear but couldn’t get into the second book and gave up on the series after that. I’ll look forward to reading more about your project – I think it’s a great idea!

  6. It’s a lovely post, Jane – and a wonderful idea. When I had to move unexpectedly last year, I had to let a lot of things go, just because I didn’t have room in the new place. I found it easier than I expected, but a lot of it was stuff that I had accumulated in closets – I didn’t even know what was in there, after a while – so not the sort of history and associations with your things. I look forward to reading (and seeing) more about this as well.

    Like Helen I enjoyed the first of Jean Auel’s book, but I also lost interest after the second.

  7. This is so touching. And painfully familiar. But I am the type who gathers the familiar, as well. I wish you the best on your path to ‘seeing the stars’! A very good idea. I think, because I have been wanting to read Laski’s book for such a long time, I am now going to find a copy. For your mum. I know I will enjoy it even more now. 🙂

  8. A beautiful and thoughtful post. What a lovely idea, I am a gatherer of the familiar and know that sometimes you have to let go. Recording it is a lovely idea.

    I look forward to reading more.

  9. I have trouble letting go, as I definitely fall into the group who are comforted by the familiar, and Lisa’s comment about what we might call history without associations (?) also struck a chord, as I have boxes of which the contents have now become a complete mystery, and it might actually be better to remove them without opening! Your post is beautiful, and really resonated with me.

  10. I was doing a car boot sale this morning, and I had the last few remaining opera cds of my late mum’s that I’m not keeping or sold via other avenues. An older lady tried to bargain me down from £2 (it had 4 cds!) to £1 and I was not moving until I realised that I didn’t need to bring it home with me to try to sell next time, which is similar to the feeling you’ve had. I’m pleased that I relented.

    If you record memories in photos and words, you can store them without always needing to keep the ‘stuff’ too, something I need to do too. Thank you so much for putting your thoughts on this into words and sharing them with us.

  11. Thank you for a beautiful post. I am also in the process of letting go heaps of stuff. My three children emigrated and I always had the lingering hope that someone will return. I now know they won’t. So I have started letting go stuff – from books and encyclopaedias to jewellery and clothes which were all packed away. Even stuffed toys!

  12. Such a beautiful and poignant post. Loved it. Thanks for sharing this personal bit with us. And the very novel idea of keeping the memories while losing the clutter. I am of the latter group too, preferring to be surrounded by the familiar and reluctant to let go. Definitely looking forward to reading more of such posts from you.

  13. This struck such a cord. My house is packed with items I inherited when my mother died 4 years ago even though I have made many trips to charity shops. I will try to adopt your photo memory idea.

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