It’s amazing how visceral memory can be, right? I am so often convinced that a memory – of a place, a building, a face or an object – is absolutely true and completely accurate, only later to have my certitude blown up in a phaser blast of actuality.
As a romantic, a historian and a storyteller, which by the way can be a very dangerous combination, I often get into this kind of memory trouble. I can be completely convinced that the story I’m happily telling is based entirely on fact. I know that the historic movie palace that I’m trying to help save from demolition was where my mother took me to see “Pollyanna” in 1960 when the power went out and we sat in the darkened theatre for an hour before going home, disappointed. Only… it wasn’t. Probably these accuracy/memory lapses are pretty harmless; a not very important and wholly innocent story, and no one at the City Council hearing will know the difference. Probably.
But what bigger and more cherished memories are fuzzy, or complete fantasy? Should it matter?
My brothers and I and our spouses have been working for months at the bittersweet task of clearing out our parents’ Denver home of 40 years in anticipation of its being sold. There are so many memories boxed up, closeted, stacked and filed in that big ranch house and it’s been hard for us to process them. For example, there’s the hat. In the basement, in one of the big, round-topped wooden steamer trunks that our Mom had kept crammed with treasures either valuable or puzzling, we found several ladies’ hats. My grandmother’s, her mother’s. From the 1910s, and in pristine condition, they told an immediate and lovely story of a well educated woman with far more style than we grandsons had ever known. So far, so good, the story. But I was immediately convinced, without reservation or hesitation, that I recognized one of the hats as having been worn by Ariel on her wedding trip to far off Los Angeles in 1912, it being prominently depicted in photographs in the family albums we had just recently looked through again. So all weekend long, I told and retold the story: to my husband, my brothers and their wives, to cousins, to anyone who would, or would not, listen. A small story. But a story regarded by the listeners as significant and delightful. And soon we were all to learn: not true.
Of course, the photograph told the real story, and my story went into the fiction section. Where, now that I think of it, it will stay and continue to be told. Fair warning: I’m admitting now that, my faulty memory and all, absolute accuracy can sometimes get in the way of a good, romantic, history-based story. I promise, however, to try to not tell them at City Council hearings. Or in court.