Okay, here’s irony at work in a BIG way. I decided a while back that I would write this month’s Blog about memory. And guess what? I forgot to print it out! Does that sound like cosmic interference?
OH YES, I REMEMBER IT WELL!
I’ve been thinking a lot about memory lately. Probably because, at my age, memories take up a lot of my time.
The thing is the more I remember, the more I question the accuracy of memories – mine and everyone else’s.
I have been working on the IDEA of memory quite a lot lately, probably inspired by a book I am reading called Pieces of Light by Charles Fernyhough.
Mr. Fernyhough suggests that “…when you have a memory you don’t retrieve something that already exists, fully formed – you create something new.” I find that idea fascinating, and acceptable.
For one thing, I have discovered that when I think back on shared experiences – like those of my children and me – I find we have amazingly different takes on the same subject. Mine being the correct oe of coruse.
Who said what and how he or she said it for example. Was the tone angry or perhaps teasing?
I (think) I remember, very clearly, having a discussion with my, by then adult, children, about an incident involving one of the boys and his father. He remembers it as a focused argument between himself and his Dad. The other kids said it wasn’t that way at all, it was a general argument.
Each one had a point of view and the only thing they agreed on was that it happened., The son who initiated the conversation had the last word. He said, “I don’t care what you say, “This is MY memory and YOU can’t change it.”
Well, he was right. The memory belongs to the person who owns it, but that doesn’t mean it is exactly as it occurred.
Watching television has made me wonder how crimes are ever solved when police have to depend on people for information. I have seen interviews where people, all watching the same event, sound off on their memory of “what happened?”
According to one man, the “perp” was a “short dark, but not VERY dark, man, probably in his thirties.” Yet the woman next to him says “No, he was definitely a white guy..maybe 18 to 24.”
One witness will swear that the man was a woman in disguise with red hair who limped, but another definitely remembers a heavy set black man. Probably an athlete. They are all working from well-intentioned memories of what they think they saw.
Chances are really good, that when you talk to them later, they will “remember” things a little differently. By then the possible witnesses are away from the excitement and possibly fear involved in – well – in being involved at all. So the atmosphere is different. The circumstances are different…their memories are different.
I can’t speak for anyone but myself but I think I can admit that my memories are probably influenced by a bit of ego. In most of my clearest remembrances I behaved very well. And if I wasn’t the bravest person on the scene, I was undoubtedly the cleverest or the most logical – or perhaps the kindest.
Actually, I think the memories I have saved up are those that “make good stories.”
For example, I remember one time, rather long ago when I was back in Philadelphia, I noticed a very old and rather frail looking lady walking down the street carrying what seemed to be a really heavy bag of groceries. So I stopped my car and got out and asked her if I could drive her some place. She accepted, gratefully, and got into the car where she began a recital of the way she was mistreated by her thoughtless grand daughter who didn’t seem to care that she, the grandmother, had to walk to the store because the girl was too lazy.
It took about five minutes to get to the lady’s home and as we drove up the much maligned grand daughter came racing out of the house. She’d been worried. She couldn’t find the older woman. Why had she left without telling anyone? She hugged her grand mother and then turned to acknowledge me. She said thank you and took the bag from her grandmother and turned to go in to the house. Her grandmother turned to me and invited me in for tea. I said no but she persisted and her grand daughter joined her so I accepted.
It was a pleasant home. And the tea was fine. I asked the old lady what she did with her time and she told me she knitted…and then she smiled at me. I must, she said, have one of her hand made scarves. And, despite my protest that that wasn’t necessary, she sent her grand daughter to fetch them.
The girl returned with a stack of some really, really ugly shawls…all in brilliant crayon box colors. The old lady showed them off proudly and said that I must have one. I should, she said, just take my pick.
Reluctantly, I chose the white one. It wasn’t pretty but it came closer than any of the others. I said thank you and assured her it wasn’t necessary She said “That’s twelve dollars!”
Okay, I did a good deed and I got punished for it. I left the house in a hurry, really angry that I’d been suckered like that. But then I rethought. This was one of those happenings that was going to be a really funny story – later.
All these years later, I remember it well. But look at what I get out of it. I get to tell everyone about a good deed I did, plus get a little empathy for being taken advantage of, and still get a laugh. Is it 100% accurate? Probably not But it’s MY memory, and you can’t change it.
What’s in your memory bank?
I was out driving a few day ago and as I rounded a corner I noticed a particularly good looking young couple standing down the road a bit. They were an attractive pair. She, fairly tall and slender, wearing one of those long skirts that moves gracefully in the breeze, and he, in a fitted Tshirt and jeans, looking just the way he should.
As I watched they would glance tenderly into each others eyes then quickly look down as if embarrassed by the emotions they were obviously feeling.
I’m a writer…I see a scene, I automatically fill in the dialogue. This one danced around beautiful blue eyes and strong hands, and maybe marriage and a honeymoon back packing around Europe…or no…maybe climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower and gazing at the world’s most romantic city.
It was all there and it fit so perfectly.
But, no matter how slowly I drove I finally reached them and started to go around the next corner. I couldn’t complete the turn without looking back for one last glance. There it was…the exchange of glances and the quick look down at the ground, where stood the explanation I really didn’t want to see.
They were standing together, small bag in hand, tenderly watching and waiting as their doggie pooped!