‘When I was a child…’ and the story goes on. Have you heard your grandparents or parents saying some stories about their childhood? They invariably begin with this phrase, ‘when I was a child…’.
Do you remember what happened when you were a child? Maybe we remember what games we used to play; what peculiar habit we had, or we walk holding parent’s finger. Some memories of early childhood stick to our mind. But we don’t remember whether we cried or smiled when born. We may not have any memory when we started walking first. But we know, it happened to us. Because it happens to everyone. That’s why we believe when parents tell us.
Similarly, our parents may remember some parts of their early childhood. Similarly grandparents about their childhood. So, the memory trail goes back from generation to generation. Each generation keeps telling own stories of childhood with the same phrase, ‘when I was a child…’ and the knowledge is transferred through oral history.
But what happens to history? Does this oral history give us a comprehensive account of its time? Maybe not. But the written history also doesn’t inform us about those interesting and basic aspects of human lives that we can hear from such oral history.
Nowadays many parents record every activity of their children: the first smile, first crawling, first tooth, first walk, and the list goes on. It later becomes a cherished recollection for the family. Sometimes it also turns out to be an embarrassment for the person whose story it is. Because parents would add certain funny anecdotes with it. Every child’s first photograph is invariably naked and as grown-up mature, serious head of the family, he would not like the photograph to be placed on the centre table and discussed by his wife and children. But later it is realised that such photographs are a treasure.
Coming back to the ‘when I was a child…’ stories, it can be said that the storyteller finds them so interesting and enriching that the same story is repeated over and over again. Till the time listener is still a child, it goes on well. But once the listener turns to adolescence, the story loses its charm. One, because of countless retelling. Two, because that is the age when the listener feels s/he has better things to do than listen to the repeated boring stories. Some stories are told only to amuse children or grandchildren. But many stories begin with a clear purpose of correcting the behaviour of children. Setting the parameters of their own time, storyteller propagates that children should follow the example.
The point is, it is an interesting tradition to pass on stories of our generation to the next, through written or oral communication. That also tells us about society, emotions, habits and expectations of different times. Importance of diary writing is invaluable because it is a recorded history of contemporary time from a personal point of view. Even if the diary writer mentions his personal struggle of searching for a job, it is evidence of the struggle that generation would have faced. Personal diaries are generally not published. But whoever has given us a glimpse of their personal diary writing, it has enriched our knowledge. The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank is a glaring example. A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Wolf; and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith are other good stories of individual’s perspective of their time.
Therefore, if someone starts to tell you a story, ‘when I was a child…’, listen to it patiently.