Skip to content

FOULDS: Are your memories vivid or fading into time?

If the 54-year-old me has vivid memories of what the 14-year-old me experienced 40 years ago, can the same be said of a 54-year-old in 1982 thinking back 40 years to 1942, smack in the middle of the Second World War?
Foulds column head

Where you were 40 years ago might be a crystal-clear, colour memory, a hazy, black and white image or something in-between.

However, would that reflection of a memory four decades ago be the same for people your age, but back in 1982?

This past weekend featured the 109th Grey Cup game, an instant classic in which the underdog Toronto Argonauts defeated the favoured Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who were seeking their third consecutive championship.

The last team in the Canadian Football League to win three Grey Cup titles in a row was the Edmonton Eskimos (now known as the Elks), who won five consecutive Cups between 1978 and 1982.

In fact, it was exactly 40 years ago this month that Edmonton won the last of its five straight championships, a 32-16 victory over the Argonauts in Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium.

I was 14 years old on that day — Nov. 28, 1982 — and I remember it clearly, as if it was yesterday, with rain pounding on the turf as the Lime and Mustard dynasty used screen passes at will to defeat the Boatmen. Warren Moon and Brian Kelly and Dave Cutler are as fresh in my mind right now as they were on that day.

That same year — 1982 — provides other memories that are equally as crisp and clear and instant.

There is the improbable Vancouver Canucks’ run to the Stanley Cup final, in which they were swept by the New York Islanders (like the Eskimos, winning the last of their dynastic string of titles).

There is the release of Steven Spielberg’s film E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. There is the appearance of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album (just two days after the Grey Cup game). And there is the Falklands War between Great Britain and Argentina.

I remember them all with clarity — miffed that Hugh Campbell and the Esks had won the Grey Cup yet again, bawling like a hurt baby when Islander captain Denis Potvin hoisted the Stanley Cup in the Pacific Coliseum, crying again (but hiding the tears from my friends) as I sat in the Town Cinema red theatre in Abbotsford and watched an alien capture my heart, arguing with friends whether Billie Jean, Beat It or the eponymous Thriller was the album’s best song and rushing home from school each day at 3 p.m. to read about the Falklands War in the Vancouver Sun that had just been plunked down on our doorstep (and wondering if the mesmerizing Vulcan bomber, a mainstay at the Abbotsford International Airshow, was being used in that conflict).

These memories, spurred by the Blue Bombers’ failed quest for three straight Grey Cup titles this past weekend, are fresh, with the 1980s still regarded by me as fairly recent.

It is, in fact, the last decade in my mind that still shines with relative newness — the 1970s, in my head, is the first decade going backwards that carries with it a tinge of black and whiteness.

But this prompted me to wonder: If the 54-year-old me has vivid memories of what the 14-year-old me experienced 40 years ago, can the same be said of a 54-year-old in 1982 thinking back 40 years to 1942, smack in the middle of the Second World War?

Or does the positive or negative aspect of a memory colour its transmission?

A University of Miami paper in the middle of the pandemic’s restrictions era — in November of last year — notes how the pandemic has played with our perception of time and memory.

Psychology professor Aaron Heller explained that our sense of time is impacted by the level and amount of newness we experience. During the worst of pandemic lockdowns, our sense of time was profoundly impacted.

Interestingly, the general Groundhog Day-like existence many experienced during the past two years can and has impacted memories with respect to time. Just think of how often you have had a brain cramp trying to remember when certain things happened since March 2020, when lockdowns began

The fog of the pandemic pause can even permeate pre-COVID-19 events in one’s mind, shifting happenings you once knew occurred in a certain year into another decade. It is akin to a non-contact concussion.

The University of Miami paper referenced American philosopher William James and French philosopher Henri Bergson and the fact they were crucial in revealing objective and subjective time, with our past feelings and memories influencing our present experience.

Bergson’s research explained why spending one hour doing two different things can severely alter the perception of how long that one hour has been. Think of being transfixed by a 60-minute movie compared to having a cavity filled for an hour at the dentist.

In simple terms, time seems to fly by when you’re having fun and time seems to drag on forever when you are not. It explains why summers seemed to stretch to eternity when you were a carefree kid, but now get squeezed out quickly by spring and fall when you have to work through July and August.

A similar theory is attached to why some memories can be recalled in HD, while others fade like a newspaper left out in the sun.

Yes, more positive memories, like that first crush or the day you got your first pet, tend to be recalled with more clarity than more mundane memories, such as that long drive in the rain to your aunt’s house back in the day.

But retention and playback of specific negative memories that have had a profound impact on one’s life, such as the death of a family member, can also be replayed in brilliant colour by the hippocampus, the memory-processing centre of the brain.

Perhaps that 54-year-old in 1982 would have had clear memories of her 14-year-old self in the middle of the war. Or, maybe not, depending on whether that memory was connected to the Toronto RCAF Hurricanes’ Grey Cup victory or to the hunger created by rationing of food during the tough times.

Twitter: @ChrisJFoulds