Remembrances of Time Past

When I was a child, my Dad would sometimes bring home Eccles cakes for a special treat. My brothers and I have happy memories of such occasions and retain a fondness for those little round pastries that contained currants and citrus and spices in pastry that had a shiny sugary surface and three little slits that gave a view of the delicious filling. My father purchased them at a long-gone local bakery, and in the many subsequent decades, despite a lot of research, I’ve not been able to find any that are quite as good. Some are too large, some are not round but squarish, some containing the candied fruit that one finds in Christmas cakes, some with raisins. All wrong. We’ve tried many bakeries and some members of our family have tried to reproduce these pastries, but they’re not quite as I remember them.

That’s one of the problems with remembering things. The past has its own reality and is not as accessible as I would like. And maybe our memories deceive us.

I’ve been reading about the James Webb Telescope which is expected to look back in time to see how the universe appeared some 13 billion years ago. I’m impressed with that, but I’d just like to look back seven decades to re-experience those early Eccles cakes.

It would also be interesting go back to 17th century England to see how they looked in Eccles, the town of their origin. Apparently, those Eccles cakes were so good that they were seen by the Puritans as inappropriately indulgent and sinfully tempting to the human soul. Some community festivals known as Eccles Wakes were celebrated with Eccles cakes, music and dancing and general revelry which, according to legend, resulted in Oliver Cromwell instating an act of Parliament that threatened imprisonment for anyone found eating these pastries.

Mostly I’d just like to sometimes be able to return to some of those happy days in Kerrisdale at the kitchen table with my father opening a bakery box. Well, to be honest, I’d also like to return to a holiday in Cheshire with my husband when we checked out bakeries for such treats. I’d like to return to a great many happy times with my husband. I’ve always believed that the past is real and all past times are still there, if only we could access that fourth dimension. There’s an old joke that says, “Time is Nature’s way of stopping everything from happing all at once,” which makes sense, but I’d like there to be ways of going back, and the new telescopes suggest to me that it could be possible.

In “Burnt Norton,” T.S. Eliot wrote, Time present and time past/ Are both perhaps time present in time future.

I like that idea. I also like in Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking,” the line What falls away is always. And is near.

And then there is Shakespeare’s wonderful “Sonnet 30” in which he writes about how the remembrance of things past can lead him to miss and grieve things that are gone, and concludes, But if the while I think on thee, dear friend/ All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

I know that dementia can lead to a return to the past, but that’s not the route I wish to take. And, although we so frequently observe, these are challenging and stressful times, I don’t believe that nostalgia really helps. But a short visit to re-experience the past would be a pleasant reprieve.

Until the powerful new telescopes allow me access to other dimensions, I’ll just keep choosing moments in which I can enjoy sessions of sweet silent thought that offer remembrances of times past. And I’ll keep my eyes open for a proper Eccles cake.

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