The power of memories (and the time I fell in the toilet!)

Posted on 20 October 2016 by Andrew Dodds

Small child laughing as they sit on a toilet.

MacKillop staff member Andrew Dodds tells us about an inspiring young man he met when he was Volunteer Live-in Youth Mentor (also known as Lead Tenant) and the lesson he learnt about the importance of holding on to the memories that can sustain us. 

It was late in the evening when the young man returned home to the Lead Tenant house where I was the Volunteer Live-in Youth Mentor. He greeted me with a big broad smile and took a seat on the couch. I asked him if he would like a hot chocolate. “Yes please,” he said with a nod of his head.

Hot chocolates were amongst this young man’s favourite things in the world. It was pretty soon after he had moved into the Lead Tenant program that he had even given me special instructions on how the ultimate hot chocolate was made:

One scoop of ice-cream; two scoops of Milo; a squirt of Maple Syrup; hot water to half-way; and milk up to the line.

He explained to me that he and a former carer had made hot chocolates this way and it was something that he didn’t plan on changing.

With the hot chocolates made I joined the young man on the couch and the two of us chatted whilst we waited for them to cool.

We were both tired, and after learning of each other’s days, our conversation descended into toilet humour, as it often did at that time of night. That’s when I told him about my first memory – an incident as a toddler when I was still making the transition from the potty. I attempted to use the adult toilet on my own, without my parents’ knowledge, when I suddenly slipped off the seat and into the bowl. After responding to my calls for help, my parents' first reaction (instead of immediately rescuing me) was to burst out laughing and then rush to get the camera to capture my embarrassing (but relatively safe) position for posterity.

I’m not sure if the young man was overtired or he was just in a happy mood, but he loved the story - he laughed, clapped and even mimicked my efforts to drag myself out of the toilet. He was laughing so hard tears were rolling down his cheeks.

The young man then launched into the story of his first memory.

There was a celebration in his hometown and many of his relatives were at his house. He remembered an open fire in the kitchen where his mother was making Injera (a spongy flatbread similar to a pancake).

He was stealing little bits of Injera off a plate that was on his mother’s lap and she was calling out and tickling him each time he did so. He remembered reaching out for another piece of Injera and being bundled up in his mother’s arms as she draped a large piece of Injera over his face, causing him and his relatives to erupt with laughter.

That was his first memory: being bundled up in his mother’s arms, the warmth of the fire in the kitchen, the laughter of his mother and relatives, and the warm Injera on his face.

It was not long after this that, due to civil war, he was separated from his mother, placed on a boat and left to seek asylum in a foreign land.

He explained to me that due to being so young and growing up so far away from home, there had come a time when he had forgotten his mother’s face, but he has never forgotten the memory of her lovingly holding him tight and the sound of her warm laughter.   

When the young man finished his story there was silence between us. I finally broke it by asking him when the last time he had eaten Injera was – “not for ages,” he replied. I quickly Googled a local restaurant that served it and suggested we go there together. He agreed and we did our customary handshake and retired to our respective rooms for the night.

Lead Tenant has given me so many amazing memories, and this young man sharing his story with me ranks up there with the best of them.

MacKillop are looking for Volunteer Live-in Youth Mentor (also known as Lead Tenant) in northern and western Melbourne.