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The fun part of LindaGHill‘s stream-of-consciousness challenge is seeing the wide spectrum of responses to Linda’s prompt.  Writing about the word “memory” gave me an opportunity to articulate some half-formed ideas about memories and photos.  Time (and family members who frown when they see me on my laptop) prevented me from reading many posts by other SoCS participants, but two responses intersected with my post at some points, despite going in different directions with “memory.”

John, who blogs at The Sound of One Hand Typing, reflected on the sad mood of songs about memory, such as “The Way We Were” or the melancholy song “Memory” from Cats.  Somewhat inappropriately, I did a happy dance when I read the word “Cats,” as I had predicted in my post that I would not be alone in mentioning the song “Memory.” In his last sentence, John left us with a challenge to think of happy memory songs.

I browsed mentally through songs I knew and hit upon a couple of “memory” songs that don’t make me feel sad.  One classic that I came up with is “Auld Lang Syne,” which is irrevocably associated with New Year’s Eve. The poet Robert Burns wrote “Auld Lang Syne” in 1788. Soon it became a tradition to sing Burns’ poem on Hogmanay, the Scottish version of New Year’s Eve. While there are five verses and a refrain in Burns’ original, we sing only the first stanza and the chorus on New Year’s Eve:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

And auld lang syne, my dear,
And auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet
for auld lang syne.

Through his rhetorical question, the speaker implies that we should take time to remember old friends and old days. John has a point about the wistful quality of songs about the past, though, because Burns’ poem is not completely cheerful. While subsequent stanzas describe pleasant hours spent running about the fields and paddling in the stream, he hints at difficult times that have transpired since his youth: “But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.” Still, an old friend appears to be part of the poet’s life, even at this late date:

And there’s a hand, my trusty friend,
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a draught of right good will
For days of auld lang syne.

While the singer doesn’t gloss over the intervening years, he feels hopeful, knowing that he has a friend — and the pint cup in the second stanza:

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Despite its realistic overtones — each person buys his own pint! — it’s a heart-warming song. In fact, memories of the past are happy to the point of cliché:  “We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine.” Clearly, uplifted spirits and lighter hearts can result from remembering the past with family or friends.

Even before I thought of “Auld Lang Syne,” another upbeat song involving memory came to mind: “I Remember It Well,” from the 1958 musical Gigi. As a girl, I enjoyed Gigi without having a clue as to what was actually going on (Gigi was being groomed to become a courtesan). I adored Leslie Caron, her gorgeous dresses, and the charming French atmosphere. When I first saw Gigi, “I Remember It Well” seemed to drag on, since Caron wasn’t in that scene. Today, I have more sympathy for the romantic feelings of the older generation. Now advanced in years, Hermione Gingold and Maurice Chevalier reminisce about their love affair as they sit at a table with a sunset backdrop. Amusingly, they remember the details of their past quite differently (lyrics by Alan Lerner):

We met at nine, we met at eight, I was on time, no, you were late
Ah, yes, I remember it well
We dined with friends, we dined alone, a tenor sang, a baritone
Ah, yes, I remember it well

That dazzling April moon, there was none that night
And the month was June, that’s right, that’s right
It warms my heart to know that you remember still the way you do
Ah, yes, I remember it well

How often I’ve thought of that Friday, Monday night
When we had our last rendezvous
And somehow I foolishly wondered if you might
By some chance be thinking of it too?

That carriage ride, you walked me home
You lost a glove, aha, it was a comb
Ah, yes, I remember it well
That brilliant sky, we had some rain
Those Russian songs from sunny Spain
Ah, yes, I remember it well

You wore a gown of gold, I was all in blue
Am I getting old? Oh, no, not you
How strong you were, how young and gay
A prince of love in every way
Ah, yes, I remember it well.

Their memories of the past — if contradictory — bring them pleasure. I always love the moment when Chevalier hesitantly sings, “Am I getting old?” and Gingold reassures him warmly, “Oh, no, not you!” The underlying message is that, yes, they are getting old, but they have a beautiful memory to recollect as the sun sinks gently.Fading Sunset  If they show a tendency to rewrite the past in romantic or glowing terms, who cares?

The ironic lyrics for “I Remember It Well” convey another aspect of memory: it is both fickle and subjective. The way in which memory plays tricks on us and, indeed, cannot be trusted came up in “Memory Is Faulty: Stream of Consciousness Saturday,” which I read at Some Kernels of Truth. Citing both scientific studies and personal experience, the author looked at how differently people remember the same event and at the problems that may result from inaccurate or conflicting recollections of an incident.

Few movies have dealt with contradictory accounts of the same incident more amusingly than Hoodwinked! Made in 2005, this computer-animated film cleverly retells “Little Red Riding Hood” as one character after another relates what happened, as he or she saw it. Part of what makes Hoodwinked! good is its cast — Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton, and David Ogden-Stiers, to name a few of the voices we hear. The movie fascinates me because of its approach to story-telling: the diverging accounts of the “crime,” as told to the frog detective, add layer after layer of “memory.”

In modern life, different accounts of the same incident are more problematic than in the fairy-tale world of Hoodwinked! Unconsciously, we may rewrite events according to what is in our own best interests or what we desire. In the conclusion of an NCIS episode, Season 9’s “Restless,” Tony realizes that he has reworked an embarrassing episode from his boarding school days so that he sees himself as the perpetrator of a prank when, in fact, he was the victim. Often, the “good old days” aren’t as good as they seem from the comfortable distance of 15 or 20 years.

I prefer to end — not with Tony and his adolescent anguish, but with Robert Burns, who seems to have found peace with both his past and his present. “Auld Lang Syne” is also associated with a climactic scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally. After Harry (Billy Crystal) runs to a New Year’s Eve ball to find Sally (Meg Ryan), “Auld Lang Syne” begins to play.

Harry:  “What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?”

Sally: “Well, maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it’s about old friends.”

Sally’s three-word summary is a good one: the message of Burns’ nostalgic poem is that there is value in old friendships and shared remembrances. In both “I Remember It Well” and “Auld Lang Syne,” the solace of old memories comes through reliving them with friends — and in taking together a “cup of kindness.”

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Illustration of "Auld Lang Syne" (John Masey Wright, John Rogers)

Illustration of “Auld Lang Syne” (John Masey Wright, John Rogers)