AMANDA CASSIDY reflects on the power of childhood nostalgia and the magic behind those endless summers.


Amanda Cassidy on why childhood memories of summer stick with us

Life was sweeter then. The trees taller and the colours brighter. We glimmered with that radiance reserved only for youth. We dazzled and we dared. I vowed to become the first lady president of Ireland. I was going to have five children, maybe six. My bathroom would be tiled with shells and I’d travel the world. Our dreams were big, but when it came to our plans, they were deathly serious. In summer, we lay on our backs on warm trampoline­s plotting our days and finding shapes in the clouds.

I have a picture from when I am six. A faded photograph of my sister and I and our giant sunflowers. We are in our school uniforms – stiff in heavy pleated skirts and red elasticate­d ties. Our sunflowers soar from the ground in crude plant pots beside us and we gingerly clutch our creations as if made out of glass. Our faces are turned towards the camera, smiling proudly as we display our willowy plants. Skinny stems stretching skywards.

This picture sits on the shelf in my bedroom. It is beside the Mother’s Day cards, the heavy-handed paintings from playschool, tattered 28-year-old Bon Jovi tickets, the menu from our wedding and the sketch my daughter made of us; happy stick figures wrapped in a heart. It’s the paper-trail of moments I can’t bear to be without. This photo reminds me of those sweet days of summer when jellies cost a penny and the ground smelt of tar. For a moment, I’m that little girl in plaits again making perfume from petals, tiny spindles

of yellow floating among the rose petals we stole from my mum. The water is murky and stagnant, but we swear we love the smell.

Memories from childhood are powerful – summer-shaped nostalgia even more special. Those seemingly endless days blur together into a hazy mirage of cut grass and Mr Freeze-shredded lips. We stayed out until twilight, tossing our Christmas bikes on their sides at dinnertime and waiting for the sun to come up again. We piled into friends’ houses, making mix tapes and learning not to flinch prematurel­y during a game of slapsies – our hands weathered by handstands and Chinese burns.

Such summer nostalgia isn’t unusual. Studies have shown that our strongest childhood memories are more than ten times as likely to be events that took place in the summer compared with any other season. Family visits to the beach top the list of these fond recollecti­ons. Playing hide and seek and watching Top of the Pops also

“Memories from childhood are powerful… Those endless days blur together into a hazy mirage of cut grass and Mr Freeze-shredded lips.”

feature, but it is seaside adventures, like shell gathering or paddling in rock pools, that remain favourites as we slip into adulthood.

Banana sandwiches, burying dad’s feet in the sand, searching for smooth stones that, to our seven-year-old minds, are vaguely heart-shaped. These are the fragments that make up our happiest times – a kaleidosco­pe of salty skin, sea-tangled hair and knickers instead of swimmers. We tumbled down dunes and screeched over seaweed thrown by errant brothers. These were the days we filled the paddling pool with an ice-cold hose, and shivered as we huddled on the back step slurping Fat Frog ice-pops.

Were they simpler times? Despite the absence of iPads and Instagram, we still played Game Boys and Street Fighter. But mostly, our childhood summers were a patchwork of rounders, kerbs, tip the can, and sales of work outside our homes.

“Tip the can, I free all!” made you hero for a day. Best friends became blood sisters and bike chasing rules were sacred. Saturday mornings were spent watching Muppet Babies, eating Pop Tarts by the dozen and scouring cereal boxes for colourful spokes to adorn our bikes. Punky Brewster was our fashion barometer and we trudged for miles in Fisher-Price roller skates, skinny legs wobbling as we tripped from lamp post to lamp post.

Now we have an obsession with recreating the past. All around us, retro diners and “old” jar-filled sweet shops spring up; bands reform (hello, Baby Spice); and sequels to childhood movies hit the cinema screens.

Nostalgia tourism is on the increase: the phenomenon of wanting to recreate the same happy childhood memories with our children. But can reliving the same childhood wonders create stronger intergener­ational bonds? Why do some physical landscapes from our past spark a need to do it all over again as an adult?

Science says it is for sentimenta­l reasons. But nostalgia wasn’t always so attractive. In the 17th century, nostalgia was viewed as a medical disease, with symptoms like weeping. Later, it was regarded as a psychiatri­c disorder mostly identified with homesick students and immigrants. Today, it’s a salve for many, looking back at positive moments a therapeuti­c experience. We grow wistful as we explore that link between our past and present selves.

Last year, I brought my children to Siena in Italy, a place where I spent a year during college. I swore I’d return here one day with my family, so took them to Tuscany to explore the winding streets of Siena and the Piazza del Campo. In my head, it is always summer here.

My student memories are hazy but happy. By returning, I created an invisible link to my younger self, studying in little cafés and learning Italian slang. My not-so-enthralled children seem more interested in the icecream, but seeing them against this backdrop is very special. Nostalgia is about returning to personal connection­s and making them even more meaningful. The children probably won’t remember much about it, but I will. I took a picture from that summer of my three children trying to jump up to reach and touch the famous campanile – the highest spire in the historic centre. They are laughing in the sunshine, and we can’t remember why. Maybe someday this photograph will hold its own precious memories for them; a flash of summer that might join their own collection of cherished items on a bedroom shelf somewhere. Three skinny

stems stretching skywards.

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