So I’ve had this theory about my brain. I think it reached maximum storage capacity a while back, and now whenever there’s something new I need to remember, an old memory gets randomly deleted for the space. But the return of an ancient memory during one of my travels made me rethink this theory.
And it even made me hang a right.
I’d caught up with my dear friend Judy in London where we decided we’d each choose the itinerary for one of our two days there. The first stop of my day was at stately St. Paul’s Cathedral to light candles for loved ones.
And not even the whole rest of the day was enough to cover the spectacular Museum of London! Also, I just love it when life experiences coincide. While not a huge coincidence in this case, I was still excited to come across a particular ring on display there. It was discovered during local excavation of The Rose Theatre and I’d bought a replica of it years ago while touring the remake of Shakespeare’s Globe. I’ve worn the copy ever since – and here was the real deal!
But that wasn’t the only collision between present and past.
For her day, Judy went with an outdoor theme that included strolling the peaceful lawns of Greenwich and the enchanting avenues of St. James Park (click here for my post on Greenwich and the Thames) .
With a little time before dinner, Judy scanned the rather general map we were getting around with and thought she’d like to see the house where Benjamin Franklin lived while in London. That was fine with me as I’d long had an interest in things Revolutionary. I loved touring Boston as a kid. (And as an adult – click here for my Boston post.) It’s a family tradition to watch the movie 1776 every 4th of July. Even now, I’m so obsessed with the musical Hamilton that I’m trying to memorize all the lyrics! (The play’s so rich and dense though that if my brain theory’s right, the recollection of whole years of my life will have to be sacrificed in the attempt…)
Anyway, we walked over to Trafalgar Square, saluted Admiral Nelson and took off down the Strand on our quest for Franklin’s flat. But things didn’t seem right at all – the buildings looked way modern. Could the house be on a side street? If so, our map didn’t give a clue. And googling the info was out as I hadn’t remembered to arrange for internet capabilities on my phone (the notion was probably deleted to make room for remembering my passport…).
This was getting me extremely cranky. I mean, what kind of map leads you to the general vicinity of a landmark and not to the actual street it’s on – or “in” or whatever it is they say here?!
“Because seriously,” I complained to Judy. “If something is ‘in’ a street, that says to me it’s, like, physically out in the middle of the street, right? And yeah, I get that being ‘on’ a street could also sound weird if you think about it too much, but it’s just less weird, you know what I’m saying? And another thing – .”
Thankfully for both of us, I was yanked off this train of thought at the next corner – and I swear, for a second I went into some kind of trance.
“This is it,” I murmured. “This is the street.”
What?” Judy replied, puzzled. “Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know, I just – I’ve got a feeling…”
Now, Judy knew well enough that I had the intellect and travel experience to find my way around – but she also knew my system had some glitches. Like I’d have absolutely killed on her computer version of Jeopardy if only Digital Alex Trebek accepted responses like: “Who is, um, that big dude with the mustache whose first name starts with ‘M’ and he was in a movie with that other dude?” But – he doesn’t. Judy had also seen me get hopelessly lost looking for toothpaste in a CostCo (although, in fairness, those are big stores…). And she had very good reason to believe that if my life depended on taking anything electronic out of a box and following the directions to make it work, I was a goner.
Knowing all this, why on God’s verdant earth would she trust me on a feeling?
Then again, we had nothing else to go on. So Judy reluctantly agreed to follow my instinct and we peeled off onto a side street that angled down toward the Thames. (Again, we didn’t peel off “into” this street as I still say that could have gotten us run over!) And before it proved too late, I tried desperately to figure out where this hunch had come from.
The most obvious answer was that it was a little nugget of primary or secondary schooling. Except I also recall doing some Revolutionary reading outside the classroom. Directly outside it, actually. Early in high school, I got into a book series called The Kent Family Chronicles by John Jakes – eight fat historical novels tracing the fortunes of the Kents through the founding and forging of the United States.
The first novel, The Bastard, introduces Phillipe Charboneau who (spoiler alert!) leaves his French birthplace and rejects an English birthright to play his role in the birth of a new nation. I was so consumed by the book that I started spending my lunches reading it on the steps outside the door to my next class so I wouldn’t lose track of time and miss it.
As I recall – and as the blunt title might suggest – the book is pretty frank in its coverage of Phillipe’s life. What I mean is, well, it has (whispered) “s.e.x.” (unwhispered) in it – which hadn’t been on my reading list before and which made me feel more than a bit naughty (a legacy from my Puritan ancestors, no doubt). When my teacher caught me on her classroom steps, I guiltily concocted a “bought it for the articles” type excuse and crept off to my desk.
But I did come to believe that, whatever else was in the novel, I was picking up lots of genuine American history from it too! Yes, Phillipe is fictional (and frisky) – but he crosses paths with the real likes of the Marquis de Lafayette in France, Ben Franklin in London, and Paul Revere in Boston.
Hey – Ben Franklin in London!
Maybe it was my manic semantic rant that had conjured the name. But whatever it was, sure enough, Judy’s and my detour took us straight to one of those metal historical markers on a building wall.
Turns out I’d recalled reading more than 30 years before about fictional Phillipe’s learning the printing trade in London, contemplating his prospects in America, and deciding to call on Dr. Benjamin Franklin for advice.
Where did he call on him? “In” Craven Street!
Memory can be a tricky and elusive thing – but it can also be amazing! On the one hand, my dearest Mum can recall to perfection a poem she recited as a tiny girl to open a church Christmas program. On the other, while I was walking home from working on this post at a coffee shop, I stopped and sat right down on a sweltering curb to capture a few additional thoughts – because I knew from experience they might disappear if I waited even four more blocks to jot them down.
But my adventure in London gave me hope that my memories might not truly be lost. Maybe they simply get misplaced for a time – kind of like things tend to do in my ridiculously messy apartment. I mean, everything’s in there somewhere. I just unearth stuff as I need it.
So I’m officially scrapping my former hypothesis in favor of the new and more comforting “Messy Apartment Theory.” I’d like to think that wherever I find myself years from now, just maybe – far back in the cluttered closet of my mind, possibly in that box on the shelf next to my camping gear and under the basket of mending I never got to – there exists a wisp of a distant memory on which I can always be carried home.
And if I need a memory to get me to the home of another Founding Father? Well – with any luck, that’s somewhere in there too.