Opinion: Our memories enrich our everyday activities

The Cliffs of Moher.

The Cliffs of Moher. Parker Potter


Published: 02-25-2024 8:00 AM

Parker Potter is a former archaeologist and historian, and a retired lawyer. He is currently a semi-professional dog walker who lives and works in Contoocook.

When I take my daily walk around Contoocook I will often see, hear, or even smell something that brings back a flood of memories. For example, the aroma of freshly mown grass once inspired me to spend an hour or so thinking about playing golf with my father. The sound and smell of fallen leaves in the autumn always reminds me of walking through my neighborhood to Friday night high school football games.

On my family’s trip to Ireland last summer, I was surprised by how many memories were stirred up by the things I saw.

Learning about the Scotch-Irish in Northern Ireland reminded me of my alma mater, Washington and Lee University, which was founded by Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. Seeing people fly fishing in Connemara reminded me of a beloved college professor who is now a big-time fly-fishing guide in Idaho. Hearing a band play “Hey Baby” at the Galway Races reminded me of my college fraternity, which wouldn’t hire a band for a party if it couldn’t play “Hey Baby.”

In Glendalough, we visited the remains of an ancient monastic village. Off in the distance, I saw a ridge line with lollipop-looking trees on it that reminded me of an etching by Victoria Elbroch and several etchings by Betty MacDonald. On a drive into Dublin, a storm over Dublin Bay reminded me of Matt Brown’s woodblock print, “Storm over Moosilauke.”

Wherever we went in Ireland, we saw colorful flags flown in support of Gaelic Athletic Association football and hurling teams. Those flags reminded me of Columbus, Ohio, on an Ohio State football Saturday, when scarlet and gray flags fly throughout the city. When we found a pub in County Kerry showing the Kerry-Dublin Gaelic football All-Ireland Final, the atmosphere reminded me of the six Ohio State-Michigan games I have attended, and also triggered other memories: watching England lose to Ireland in soccer in the 2016 Euro on a cruise ship full of Brits and watching the 2018 World Cup soccer match between Mexico and Brazil through the window of a Mexican bar in New York City.

I was surprised by how often things I saw in Ireland reminded me of my family’s 2011 trip to China. We saw wind turbines everywhere in Ireland, which reminded me of the hundreds of rooftop solar hot water systems we saw all over China. And when our tour bus in Ireland drove so close to a wind turbine that it seemed like we could have reached out the window and touched it, that reminded me of a similarly close encounter with the cooling tower of a nuclear power plant in Xi’an, as we drove back to our hostel from the tomb of Jing De.

At the Cliffs of Moher, I caught a glimpse of a path along the clifftop with a series of steps that took me right back to all the steps I climbed on the Great Wall of China.

Some of my favorite moments in Ireland came when I saw things that reminded me of my family. In Cobh, formerly Queenstown, the ticket office of the White Star Line, the last port of call for the Titanic, reminded me of my brother and his wife, who have made many transatlantic crossings on ocean liners. After we got home from Ireland, my brother told me about a relative, the granddaughter of our great great-great-grandfather, who was a Titanic survivor.

Had I known to look, I could have seen her name on the wall of the Titanic Museum in Belfast which we visited a couple of days after we visited Cobh.

Outside the town of Killorglin, I saw a bronze statue of a goat named King Puck, who is the honoree at an annual local festival. King Puck reminded me of my father. When I was a kid, my father told stories about the pet goat he had when he was a kid. Years later, when he was the chair of the greens committee at his country club, he hired a pair of goats to munch the brush on a steep slope between two fairways. He loved those goats and they loved him because he fed them cigarettes whenever he played their hole.

Most of all, Ireland reminded me of my grandmother, who took me on my first overseas trip, to England, in 1973. Every sheep I saw in Ireland – and I saw thousands of them – reminded me of riding through the English countryside with my grandmother during lambing season and seeing pairs of newborn lambs in the fields, snuggling up to each other.

Every thatch-roofed building I saw, including the one we stayed in in Annascaul, reminded me of the first thatch-roofed house I ever saw, with my grandmother, in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Seeing the Guildhall in Derry, Northern Ireland, reminded me of “The Freedom of the City,” a play my grandmother took me to see in London, which was set in the Derry Guildhall.

In Dublin, a shop selling woolen goods from the Aran Islands had a sweater in the front window with the same pattern of an Irish fisherman’s sweater that my grandmother knitted for me and each of my siblings back in the 1970s. It seems that everywhere I turned in Ireland, I found memories of my grandmother.

I don’t quite know how my memory works, but I do know that being open to it enriches my life every single day.