Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"It Ain't Necessarily So"

Memory is a funny thing.  I have memories of times and events in my life that go all the way back to right around my fourth birthday.  At age 4 I had my first encounter with a dog....a BIG dog, a VERY big dog.  I wasn't hurt (all the poor dog did was lick my face), but it took me years to get over it.  I remember it as clear as a bell.

There are other memories that I thought I would never forget.  Friends, dreams, information, frights, boys, dates, shows, family, arguments, hurts, joys, even certain clothes that I owned....all manner of things that were so important at the time, but now are mere shadows lurking in my mind somewhere.  No longer fully formed or complete, it is often actually the memory of a memory that stays with me.  (Does that make any sense at all?)  It is sort of like a collection of thoughts that prove to me that I actually had a life that had good days and bad days.

Some of those memories have photographic "proof" that can help keep a memory close to reality, but most don't.  I can remember songs I learned in grade school and the Children's Choir at church when I was only 8 years old.  There are other songs that I learned much more recently for various shows and performances that I am unable to recall at all, not the melody, not the words, nothing.  Some I don't even remember singing.  That astounds me.

What makes one memory remain vivid while another completely disappears without a trace?  I don't think it is a conscious process in either case.  My psyche (or whatever) chooses what to keep and what to discard without any input from me.

Still there are some memories that I was convinced were rock solid truth as told to me by my parents, the ultimate guardians of reality for a child growing up.  For instance, my mother was the middle child of her family.  Even though there had been 11 children, the order of their birth was a simple matter of fact:  Tom, Germaine, Helen, Pinkie, Mary, Mom, Annie, Mutz, Norb, Gerard, and Joe.  Easy peasy, right?  Until recently that is.  When Norb died I wrote something about him being Mom's favorite brother and I mentioned his birth order between Mutz and Jerry. 

"Au contraire, Sister-mine!", piped up Little Sis.  "Huh?" I responded intelligently.  "You are wrong, Big Sis.  The order was Mom, Norb, Annie, Mutz, Jerry, and Joe."   "No, I can't be wrong, I remember Mom talking about it!"  "Well, you remember it wrong!", said Little Sis.

Hmmmpf.  Turns out she was right, I did remember it wrong.  Now I had believed that for a LONG time, but I was wrong.  Wow!  If I can't trust my own memories, what can I trust???
My Little Sis also disagreed with me on a memory relating to my Dad's Dad.  I remember being told that my Grandfather and his brother came to this country from Denmark together as young men, just the two of them to make their way in America.

"Au Contraire, Sister-Mine."  Little Sis was at it again!  According to her it was our grandfather and HIS uncle (or something like that.)  Now wait just a minute here.  I am a lot older than Little Sis and I'm sure that the story had been repeated to me several times before she was even born!!  How could the memory be wrong?  Although Mom told me the story, I am certain she would have told me the right story!  And I am 99% sure she told me it was my Grandfather and his BROTHER (which made him my Dad's uncle, not my Grandfather's Uncle!)

Of course, now there is no one to ask.  My grandfather, his brother (or uncle), my dad, my mom, all the rest of dad's relatives are gone.  We have no written history of my Dad's family at all.  Either I'm right or Little Sis is right....but I guess we'll never know for sure. 

There are other lesser memories that have been proven to be unreliable.  That is so disconcerting.  I have never had problems with memory.  It saved my butt a million times in school and at work.  Plus over the years, I have memorized pages and pages of dialogue for a multitude of characters for the theater.  But it appears that when it comes to memories of my own life and family, just because I remember something, doesn't mean anything for sure.  I guess I just have to accept the possibility that "It Ain't Necessarily So!"  Cripes!


  1. It would be interesting to know how much of our "inner autobiographies" are actually true! Interesting but probably disturbing also!

  2. Still singing, I see. What a lovely post on memory. It can be our best friend when we are all alone.


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