Monday, December 14, 2009

Don’t believe a thing I say…

…and don’t take that title literally either. I caution you though to listen with a grain of salt when I tell a tale from my long-ago past. While I, like many of my peers, can’t remember what I had for dinner yesterday or what movie I saw on TV a week ago, we’ve always seemed to be able to describe vividly things that happened to us 30, 40, and 50 years ago. Even events in childhood can leave a lifelong impression if they made us happy or were particularly upsetting.

But now, when I dredge out an old—very old—story or statement of fact (I thought) and it’s pointed out to me that I have the details wrong, I start doubting all of my memories.

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a high school friend. When our conversation got to our guilt over not getting the proper doses of physical activity, I recalled how my grammar school gym teacher called me and others who couldn’t do our chin-ups “motor morons.” I started to relate how that label affected me ever since, when my friend interrupted.

“That was our high school gym teacher, Mrs. [whatever her name was]. And I was a ‘motor moron’ too!” This friend had not gone to grammar school with me, and if she remembers being so labeled in high school, she must be right about when it occurred. I had been occasionally telling this story in recent years, and all this time I was blaming the wrong teacher. Although I’m over the motor moron accusation, now I’m worrying over what other memories my mind has screwed up.

Even more disconcerting are the times I start relating an incident of the past only to realize I can’t remember how it turned out, or in what order events occurred. When my best friend and I wrote a silly love letter using a fake name to Ricky Nelson, we taped two aspirins to the top of page two because, we wrote, “you may get a headache after reading this.” But did we actually mail it? (I used to know that, I swear.)

Sometimes I’ll get hung up long before the end of the story. I start to describe what I enjoyed most on Sesame Street while awaiting the birth of my first child, and then I remember reading recently that the wonderful PBS program debuted in 1969—when my daughters were 5 and 2. How can that be, when I’m picturing myself watching the show in our one-bedroom Skokie apartment, one hand on my mounded belly? If that memory is tangled up in my mind with another one, I suppose I’ll have to drop that bit of nostalgia from my repertoire.

So, with the exception of my December 13 post on my reaction to Hebrew at five, I advise you to raise an eyebrow when I begin to reminisce. Listener beware: I think someone reshuffled the cards in this sixty-something brain.

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