News / Opinion / Columns
Our memory is not always conscious. Some of it is cultural.
Our past lives not only in our minds, but in the things we do, the rituals and practices handed down to us by our elders.
This is clearly the case with our myths and legends, the songs, nursery rhymes and fairytales we are taught. Often they are meaningless, beyond having a certain catchy rhythm, or a distinctive turn of phrase, but there can be a message there.
The beauty of nursery rhymes is that there they can be handed down through the ages, faithfully reproduced by generations of singers, without any of them really knowing – or caring – what the meaning is.
Indeed, some say that all stories in fact tell the same story, all aimed at making people reach a certain understanding of themselves. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Brothers Grimm. Star Wars, Star Trek and Forrest Gump.
So too, with traditions.
In my family, we have a tradition of scarf wearing.
My mother literally had an entire drawer of scarves. Several drawers!
Ironically, I don’t believe I saw her wearing a scarf more than a couple times. Perhaps on a particularly windy day in Port Elizabeth, where she raised me and my sister on a diet of steak, kassler chops and liver.
To this day, I do not have an iron deficiency. My mother’s mother had been a scarf wearer too, and I now suspect Mom inherited the scarfs from her.
Maybe it was their lavender, silken opulence, but as it happened, I later took up the mantle and became a scarf wearer myself. I grew my hair long down my back, and took to committed scarf donning in the style of Axl Rose from Guns N’ Roses. In his prime, mind you.
It was a couple of years of hair-brushing and self-regard, which we all owe ourselves at some point. The scarfs disappeared from my style approach later – pretty much at the same rate as my hair – and I eventually stopped stealing them from my mom’s scarf drawer.
But as the hygiene protocols of the pandemic response begin to settle in and we’re all walking around in masks, I’m beginning to wonder if, perhaps, all of those scarfs in my mom’s drawer … could those be a legacy of an earlier pandemic?
Is it possible that in 1918, when the so-called “Spanish Flu” pandemic wreaked havoc around the world, killing millions, scarfs became an essential, life-saving health intervention?
My gran would have been six at the time of pandemic. So she would have lived through it. But it would have been from her mother that the scarf tradition must have originated.
Perhaps her mother never wore the scarfs much either. Perhaps they were just kept around, in case they became needed again one day. In a drawer. To be handed down to the next generation.
My word. Perhaps they’re the same scarfs! Still there in my mother’s scarf drawer in Port Elizabeth. She tells me she’s wearing scarfs more often these days.
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