Remembering the Way

Published on Tuesday, 7 January 2014, 12:50pm

‘The way we were’ is a romantic idea. It is also the title of a song by Bergman, Bergman and Hamlisch, most notably sung by Barbra Streisand. The lyrics treat of the bitter sweetness of looking back, nostalgia, regret, ironic acceptance that times past will not come our way again – even as the details of specific events, and the overall arc of our life experience can often be described with precision.

The process of remembering summons the past into the present and renders it vital. At afternoon tea with the Seacroft Methodist Ladies Fellowship, children from Beechwood Primary School asked questions about the way things were in daily life for the generation born and raised in the early decades of the last century.

European culture deals with time as a set of divisions: 4 Seasons, 24/7, and as referenced in the title of this project, 365 diurnal segments. The moving hands of the clock sweep the time away relentlessly. We face forward to the future, and the past is behind us. In some cultures, however, the past is regarded as in front of you, because visible and known, while the future lies behind because it cannot be seen. In contrast, Dreamtime holds past present and future in a continuum and establishes the structures of aboriginal life in continuity with the land.

As well as the mixed emotions arising from reminiscence, remembering the way we were is a matter of great pride. The achievements of the women are considerable. They have lived their lives at the heart of their communities; bringing up families; working in a wide range of industries and businesses in Leeds and setting an example of fortitude, economy and appreciation of the important things in life.

The members of the Fellowship have time now to satisfy the curiosity of the young people about the past. They talk in great detail about their daily lives before domestic appliances were commonplace – when shopping was done daily from local specialists, when the food was in season; when food was stored on a cold slab in the pantry; when writing was with a pen dipped in ink and blotted with blotting paper; when the laundry was done on a Monday in water heated by a fire under the copper and took all day; when the snacks were bread and jam or dripping; when the gas lamps were lit one by one by the lamplighter; when the way to go was on foot or on a bus with a conductor; when you swam in a knitted suit which hung waterlogged down to your knees; when people had time to play and talk together.

These things are not forgotten, not this afternoon, while the way we were comes alive again for the children.

As the last tea cup is drained and the last teacake demolished, one lady says quietly, ‘It’s good to know we’ve not been forgotten.’

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