Monday, 25 July 2016

Ancestral memory


I remember now what we did on the day we first kissed, before the walk in Eyam, before the kiss under the ash tree. You went with me to look at a property in Rowsley in the rain. You wore a long black raincoat, which somehow looked more like a wizard's cloak than protective outdoor gear on you. Afterwards we had lunch in Cauldwell Mill. We watched a rival blacksmith in the forge then stood by the old mill, watching the wheels turn, breathing in history. We talked about ancestral memory, the idea that somehow we might carry the collective unconscious of our ancestors in our minds and souls. We both felt it, the familiarity in the hum and whirr of industrial equipment. It was the same feeling we had with each other: breathing deep, drawing close, coming home.

Weeks later, together now, we held hands as we walked the Porter Valley, ambling along the river where Little Mesters once sharpened knife blades on millstones. We held each other, watching the flood and gush of water on the Shepherd's wheel, remembering those ancestors of ours. My great-grandfather made penknife blades on this river, I said, casting my mind back for the fragments of stories my grandmother told. Later still, in Knaresborough, so deep in love that there was no way back, I idled the time by the River Nidd, leafing through books in an antique shop while you studied the markings on penknife blades, choosing one carefully for your collection.

The week that you died, I was meant to be leading a heritage writing walk along the banks of the River Don. You'd come with me a few weeks earlier to scope out the territory. You'd navigated the way by scrapyards, told me about a world that was alien and yet so familiar. My Sheffield is the Sheffield of green valleys and tree-lined streets, my accent polished like a fine knife blade, my only tools those of words and imagination. But my father and grandfather worked on that river. My father worked with oiled machines, big wheels and steel buckets. His father was a furnaceman who stoked the fires of the steelworks, My mothers's father was a coal merchant, who sold the coal that powered the city. And here you were, a man of fire and iron, words and imagination, strong by my side, a bridge between the past and future. We talked about our future again on that walk. We'd been to see another house, the house I will soon move into, and we were discussing still the old conundrum: to live together or not together, that was the question. We never found the answer. We know it now. Still, on that river, we held each other tight and kissed to the accompaniment of gushing water and clanking steel, in the moment, melded together.

Yesterday, I walked back along the Porter Brook on a poetry walk and I remembered you, as I always do. I stood beneath an ash tree while my friend read a poem about the ash and looked up into the branches, remembering how you told me, on our first walk, that if you were a tree you would be an ash, remembering how you kissed me for the first time beneath an ash tree, later on that day when we first talked of ancestral memory in Cauldwell Mill.

My memories come full circle, my home town littered with images of you now, strewn like leaves across the pavements. I walk my own heritage walk down memory lane, write my own poetic footnotes.  Our memories are part of who we are. And you are part of me now.