Some might say I was at the age when the topic ought to be: “I have forgotten…” But I haven’t quite reached that point. Oh, I forget stuff. The tip of my tongue is loaded like a BART train at commute time with things that are just hanging on it. Stress is not my friend. I can forget how to spell my first name if the tension is bad enough. (That I resent. It took me into Grade Two to learn how to spell it.)
That noted, I seem to have gotten my mother’s ability to retain how one felt at various times in life. This may not be the best path to sanity, since many things should be forgotten, but, as a writer, this is a good quality. And I do love to take advantage of it.
My grandmother died in childbirth when my mother was six. It was an experience that many medieval children suffered, and it leaves scars, although a loving family can do much to soothe the wounds. I have given my prioress and monk similar backgrounds. Each has come to terms with that in different ways. Had my mother not remembered the experience so vividly, I wouldn't be as prepared to give that dimension to character.
When I was fifteen, I was hospitalized for a presumed terminal condition. No one told me, but I figured it out. In the very short time it took for the prognosis to be proven wrong, I learned to start the journey to death and to watch my parents try to deal with it as well. It is an experience I have used to write about in an era where death came very early and very often.
On a cheerier note, I also spent my youth in an environment where time passed slowly. Sports didn’t interest. No TV or video games. For various reasons, and for some time, I didn't spend a lot of time with extended family and friends. As a result, I knew what it was like to literally stop and smell the roses, let the mind drift where it wanted, stare at the night sky and wordlessly wonder, or fall into the story of a 1000 page book and live with the characters in another time or country. Now time leads me, not vice versa, but my characters inhabit a world before the Industrial Revolution, noisy workplaces, and 24/7 buzzing devices. All of the latter has merit, but we sometimes forget that musing also has merit. My characters can mull because no one thought they were being unproductive.
So there is value in remembering, even the unpleasant stuff. It gives characters dimension. And, if the book is historical, it can remind us all that the past has some lessons to teach.