This evening, a friend got me mentioned in a post that immediately set me off on a nostalgic path. It was about the song “Umqombothi” by that South African music legend, Yvonne Chaka Chaka.
That song, from the “Thank you Mr D.J” album released in 1988, shaped the childhood of most of us born in the 80s, and came to be identified as the quintessential African anthem the world over.
Back then, when this song was the hit, I remember my dad booming it out from his old school turntable every evening, setting the stage for a flurry of dervish dance moves and stunts by us.
That turntable, together with his old black-and-white television, was the centrepiece of our entertainment system back in the days. Even when technology replaced both with the colour TV and VCD player (later to be replaced by the DVD player), dad stubbornly refused to let go his beloved turntable and TV.
Even when those relics of ancient technology got faulty and unserviceable, dad still refused to let them go. Instead, he prepared a special place for them in a section of the living room, and, together with the records, covered them up with table cloths, embalmed for posterity.
Turns out he had a deeply nostalgic connection with, not just these ancient technologies, but the era they represented. And letting them go seemed to him to be letting a vital part of his life history disappear.
We all feel that same sense of rueful despondency letting go some possessions that we’ve come to develop very deep connection with.
I remember when I was a little boy and mum got me this very fancy army camouflage T-shirt. It became more like a second skin on my back. Mum literally had to tear that T-shirt off my back before I even thought of washing it.
Even when it finally turned to rags, I still couldn’t imagine myself ever parting ways with that beloved T-shirt. Mum, out of exasperation, had to burn it in my absence one day. Needless to say, I wept uncontrollably when I discovered my beloved army ranger camouflage T-shirt was gone for good.
Most of us have a deeply emotional connection with something we own. Either because we’ve had those things for too long, we hardly can ever imagine meaningful life without them, or they’ve come to occupy a special place in our hearts. It could be something as simple as a spoon, a shoe or even a pair of jean trousers.
Mine, as it were, is a battery-powered, cassette player dad “dashed” me back in the days. That radio, a Toshiba masterpiece of Japanese technology gifted to him years back by his Japanese bosses as part of his long service awards, has come to symbolise my connection with the era when radio, and not the Internet, was the first source of news and other information.
It fuelled my addiction to the BBC World service and the Voice of America (on shortwave radio) back in the days, playing a significant part in how I came to fall in love with the English language.
Even though it’s been decommissioned for some years now, having developed some unidentified faults, I still find it hard to throw away. It’s gained a special place in my life history, so much so that parting ways with it will almost amount to a sacrilege.
From the look of things, it’s likely I’ll keep it archived and show it off to my children as a relic of a bygone era; a memento in memory of an ancient civilisation.
Now, do you feel the same way about letting go something that you’ve owned for a while? Something that has developed a special place in your life history? Do you feel a part of you dies the day you burn that old jacket that has come to form part of your identity?
So how do you, basically, deal with mementos?