Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Memory and Fact

Mom, Grandma Fearn, Grandpa Fearn, Uncle Buck, 1918

Don Quixote and I, I like to think, have a lot in common. We both live in our own worlds, as independently as possible from reality. But just as Don Quixote was undone by having to face the mirror of reality, I am frequently deeply shaken by the realization that something I clearly and distinctly remember may not, in fact, be the way it actually was. Being something of a pack-rat of the bits and pieces of my life doesn’t help, since I often stumble across concrete evidence, in the form of letters or photographs, that what I was absolutely positive happened at a certain time and/or in a certain way in fact did not.

I resent reality’s unnerving ability to screw up a perfectly good memory. I do not like the fact that memories that have been like old friends, comforting me through the years can be challenged by fact and to know that despite all the pains I take to disregard it, reality always wins in the long run..

I’ve had a couple instances of this since I’ve begun writing blogs. I ran across several instances in my Navy letters home, and am doing it again with this one. I told you, for example, the story of how my Uncle Buck in effect ran away from home to join the army in WWI, and that my grandmother never saw him again. It is something I had believed all my life. And then I came across the photo shown above, showing Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, and Uncle Buck (in uniform) posed together. And therewith, a tiny thread in the fabric of my being was snagged and had to be snipped off. Uncle Buck obviously did return home on leave after his basic training. But the resentment I feel for reality’s intrusion into my memory is, I admit, offset by my pleasure in knowing that Grandma did get to see him again before she died.

In my entry about Aunt Thyra, I relayed my distinct memory that it was my cousin Jack who had found her dead. But after posting the entry, my (second) cousin Tom pointed out that it was his dad, my cousin Cork, who had found her, and I verified that by checking with Jack.

So what does it matter if memory and reality differ? To me, a great deal, for memories form the foundation of my life—they are an integral part of me, and to doubt them is to doubt everything that has made me who I am. I have built, to the best of my ability, my own world and shaped it to suit myself. I’m comfortable here, and I do not take kindly to the thought that many other cherished, firmly set memories might in fact, be untrue.

You might well think that, since I so dislike reality to begin with, I’d be quite comfortable with a little fudging. But I am not. I take it as yet another reminder that I am only human, and since my very earliest childhood, I’ve always wanted to be, and though of myself as, something more. I have no idea why this is so important to me, but it is. Why, I remember one time when I was about six….

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