The past is not another country


Richard Lutz ponders an inchoate past seven days.


A member of my family asks for details for an ancestral tree. When was Great Grandpa Max born? Was his wife named Anne, Annie or Anya? Was Grandma Joyce born in Douglas or Peel on the Isle of Man?

I respond with shreds of facts. There are tatters of death certificates, marriage documents and, of course, communal memories. I ask around. A cousin helpfully recommends going to a mutual grandmother’s grave to pin down a birth date. But where is that cemetery? It is shocking how quickly the fibres of a family evaporate. I await the full outcome. It is important.

With that in mind, I spend time with  CJ, an elderly relative. She refers to the past, her childhood, songs from seventy years ago, memories of a little girl experiencing World War II, as her own father served in the wartime navy. The past, to her, is not another country. It is alive and part of her days here and now. I give her time to look backwards, a small concession to her yesterdays.

Her vivid memories, mingled with a fading connection to the present, blossom in a little corner of heaven. Every May, Bargany Estate in southwest Scotland quietly opens its doors. Only in May. We slipped in with days to go.

Its fifty secluded acres were laid out by the very partician Dalrymple family more than two centuries ago. Azaleas, rhododendrons, orchards and majestic Redwoods and hardwoods mix around ponds and a semi-derelict walled garden. Here’s an image:

It is a piece of paradise tucked below The Southern Upland Hills. It is open one month a year. Then it slips away from the public eye and disappears for another eleven months , like the mythic village of Brigadoon. It’s in this fragment of man-made beauty that CJ’s stories of the past emerge. She looks across the tranquil ponds that reflect the trees, the flowering shrubs, the pasture and thinks and talks about her past.

It’s a yesterday without computers, mobiles, instant facts at a fingertip, transatlantic flights and, importantly, the luxury of leisure. There was rationing, fear of war, then war, then hard, hard work. But to CJ, it was a blissful time. And to her, actually, it still is remembered as joyful. She wandered around Barganny with its trees, flowers and its entrancing eyeful of landscapes. To her, the real beauty was a long time ago. To her, that was real. And still is. 















3 thoughts on “The past is not another country

  1. Brigadoon indeed. Have to wait a year to visit that magical place. Perhaps find out how things are in Glocca Morra too!

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