I recently went to visit my Uncle. He lived with my family when I was young and was responsible for my care. We were very close. The last few years have brought a stilted, and sometimes difficult, nuance to our relationship, despite the strong bond still between us. I struggle with this: partly because his influence on my life is immeasurable, mostly because I miss him. After dinner, we sat in the living room in silence; I at the dinner table, notebook open in front of me, and he on the couch, a book resting, face-down, on his chest.
“Do you remember when it snowed that time,” he said, “When we lived at Jessie Road?”
I was surprised that he mentioned it. Jessie Road was my childhood home when my parents were still married. One Christmas, when I was five or six, it snowed very heavily.
“I remember,” I answered. “What made you think of it?”
“I don’t know; it just came into my mind. I haven’t thought about it for years.”
He smiled to himself and laughed a little.
“You insisted we go out walking in it,” he said, “I was worried what your parents would say because it was so cold; that it might not be responsible to take you out.”
He looked at me for a long moment.
“You were so small. You refused to come back inside, insisted that we walk a while longer. I thought we’d just walk around the block, and that would be enough, but you insisted. We walked round and round, and then up to that long old alley behind our house. Do you remember?”
“Yes,” I say, “I remember.”
There is a pause. He settles onto the sofa, his face in profile.
“How do you remember it?” he suddenly asks.
I struggle to answer. Hearing the question literally at first, an image comes to life behind my eyes: neurons flashing electric pulses through my cerebral cortex, stimulating memory.
I ask, “What do you mean?”
"Well, what do you remember about it?” He pauses, “You were very young.”
I consider this. “It’s not the same as you remember,” I begin, “It’s more like flashes, images.”
I see the long alley, coated in shining white and endless. I see my purple pram.
“Did I have my pram with me? You know, that I got for Christmas?” I ask.
“No,” he answers with certainty, and I look up, surprised. “No, not your pram. You were holding my hand. I took you to the alley because the snow was so heavy. I couldn’t see where the road ended and the pavement began. I didn’t want you near the road. You were so small.”
We stare at each other, remembering. It occurs to me that our memories, unsurprisingly, differ; he is recalling this event with an adult’s memory and I with a child’s. I think to myself that memory is like this: rarely a subject to be agreed upon. I look at the images again in my mind. I rearrange them; remove the pram. I cannot say for certain I had it with me that day, only that I recalled it that way when we began to talk about it.
My Uncle speaks first. “Do you know, I’m not sure now that you say that. Perhaps you did have that pram…” his voice trails off.
“The purple one,” I prompt, “Corduroy material, with lines, you know?”
“Yes.” He draws the word out, thinking about it as he speaks. “Yes, I think you did have that pram with you.”
In my mind, I replace the pram, but its presence does not matter. What matters to me, what makes this conversation worth having, is that both my Uncle and I remember that day. What matters is that some twenty-five years later, we are both remembering that day.
The man and the child that walked in the snow are not the two people that now remember; and yet we are. I am an age away from the child I was; my Uncle is not the same man he was then. I know my childhood self only from photographs, and from images like my pram in the snow (which may or may not be true). That child seems unreachable to me now, and for a moment our remembering saddens me. Yet my Uncle links me to her, the five year old who was me, and I link him to the man he was then. I am comforted by this: that the two people that now remember are also the same two people that went walking in the snow, one Christmas when I was a small child.