Memories are a funny thing. They are at times as clear as a bell, and at other times blurry and confused. I write sometimes with clarity. Sometimes I write like a bunch of drunk monkeys working on a jigsaw puzzle.
My sister reads my blog and swears that we must not have grown up in the same house. Her memory is not the same as mine. She sends me little notes to challenge my memory of things. Correcting the facts as she remembers them. It’s like she’s still my big sister or something.
“Wow, are you sure we had the same parents?” she says.
“Pretty sure.” I don’t think I’m confused on that one.
“Well, I don’t remember hardly any of this stuff you’re writing about.”
“I was there. Shouldn’t that be enough?”
“I think you’re stretching the truth. I don’t remember it that way.”
“You are getting older, ya know.” Insinuating that memory fades with age.
I will be the first to admit that my memory is not what it used to be. Trying to recall details of faces and names and events from 50 years ago is not easy. She may be partially right on some things, but I’m not admitting to anything just yet.
The conflict of memory among siblings is universal. My cousin, Bob, chirped in on one of the debates that Marian and I was having. He said that reading through all the back and forth reminded him of the disconnect in memories between him and his sisters. Which I took to mean that at some point, he also had to stand his ground on more than a few old family stories.
My struggle with memory comes in different forms. There’s the I-forgot-where-I-put-my-keys kind of memory. This is the short circuit that causes a man to stand in front of the fridge wondering why he opened the door. It’s the reason I turn right out of my driveway when I should have turned left. Neurons fire off but fail to connect, and I end up calling my granddaughter by her mother’s name.
“Granpaaaaaa! That’s not my name.” She giggles and I play along.
“I know that. I was just seeing if you were paying attention.”
Then, there are the loose memories that you can’t quite connect. This occurs in the middle of a conversation where you are telling someone about your trip to the beach.
According to your version of the story it was a trip to Panama City. Your wife says it was Destin. You say it was in June. Your wife says, no, it was right after the 4th of July. Okay, it was summer. You say you were gone for a weekend trip. Your wife says you were gone 10 days. You say it was 5 or 6 years ago. She says the kids were in Jr High. That was 20 years ago. You say, “You want to tell this story.” She says, “No, you’re doing just fine.”
Most of my memories are mine. At least, I think that’s the way it works. Whatever I have in my head is there for a reason. So, I navigate my way through the past the way I remember it. If the actual facts get skewed in the telling, it’s only because I’m pulling up stuff from a place so deep in my brain that some of the details have faded.
If I say that I was wearing a red shirt at a Friday night high school football game in 1969, chances are that I was. I can’t exactly recall that for sure. Might as well be honest. I did own a red shirt. Didn’t I? Yeah, actually, it was red with navy and white stripes now that I think about it.
But the point is this. Now that I’ve told you I was wearing a red shirt, running behind the bleachers while Dicky Bass was handing off footballs to Eddy Smith for the Henry County Tornadoes, you’re there with me in your mind. You see it almost like I see it. You can hear the announcer over the loud speaker. Smell the grass. See the lights. Hear the crowd. And that’s the way stories are told.
At this point someone will likely correct me. They will say that Eddy didn’t run the ball. He played defensive cornerback. Okay. Maybe my memory is not so good. Maybe he played both sides of the ball. He did play didn’t he? Maybe I should get out an old yearbook and verify the details.
My wife has an ironclad memory of details from before time began. She remembers the blouse she was wearing when we went on our fist date. I remember that we went on a first date. She remembers the names of our kids’ first and second and third grade teachers. I remember that our kids went to school. She remembers the exact words I said to her the first time we had an argument. I claim foul. “Nuh-uh!”
Any walk down memory lane lifts the heart and reminds us of the times we cherish. Not because all the facts are accurate, but because the sites and smells and sounds are all still alive when we remember. Old men smile and women wipe the corner of their eyes when the memories come back to us.
I can see my Mama sitting at her sewing machine. A limp tape measure draped around her neck. A row of pins held tight in her lips. A thimble on her right thumb. The Singer is humming. She is pushing a seam through the needle like I’ve seen her do it a million times. At least, that’s the way I remember it.
In her later years, Mama started to lose her memory. At first she forgot where she was. Then, she forgot who we were. In her mind, she was living in 1930 with her sister, Hazel. Then, the memories went completely silent.
So, I know what might be ahead. I know that whatever memories I have will not last forever. Until then, I will rely on what I do have and I will tell the stories that keep the past alive.
The simple memories are best. Sock hops at the old gym. Scout camp outs at Glenn Mitchel’s lake. Eating Oyster Stew at the supper table and picking out the oysters. My sister eating pork chop gravy out of the bowl by the spoonful.
“Hey, now” she says. “You didn’t have to tell that one.”
“Uh-huh.” I’m the one telling this story.