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Family Memory Collages – Fact or Fiction?

By Rebecca D’Harlingue
November 30, 2021

On this Fifth Tuesday of the Month, PLW welcomes historical fiction author Trisha Faye as our guest blogger.

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A collage of memories pasted in my mind reminds me of family, despite the distance in our lives now. The overlapped and often changing scene is a collection of bits and pieces collected through the years. As the family has grown and split, scattering across a vast array of states – from California to Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, Utah, and Alaska – the physical gatherings are fewer than ever before. But the memories remain, playing through my mind, bringing us altogether daily.

When we do finally manage to visit one another, the family stories whirl about us, wrapping us all in laughter. I blame Grandma Jones and my mom for this. Grandma Jones started the tradition. I grew up hearing about her life in the years before I existed. My mom continued in her footsteps, to an even greater degree.

One of my favorite childhood tales showcases my younger sister. She was a young tyke, probably two or three years old. She did not like vegetables, especially green vegetables.

Dad tried to impose a family rule – ‘clean your plate.’

One night he attempted to enforce this mandate when she resisted finishing her peas – a vegetable highest on her list of foods she didn’t like.

Susie replied, “I ‘frow up.”

Dad insisted.

What can a youngster do but comply? Clean her plate she did.

Then she fulfilled her promise. She ‘frew up’.

More than fifty years later, this story still gets repeated almost every time we’re together.

What’s funny about that family story that we all know so well, is that neither my sister nor I truly remember the incident. What we remember is Mom repeating the story. Many times. Enough to lodge that ‘memory’ in our brains.

A few weeks ago, another situation accentuated how fleeting and wispy some memories are. I was in an online writing class. Our homework was to write a 500-word essay. One suggested topic was ‘A favorite and important childhood memory’.

I knew my story immediately. An all-time favorite birthday. I don’t remember how old I was that year. Maybe seven or eight. Maybe nine. For my birthday we drove to the Pomona Valley Animal Shelter so I could pick out my own present!

I came home with a dog named Pongo. He wasn’t a dalmatian. He was a beagle/terrier mix. But mired in 101 Dalmatian fever, any breed I chose was being named Pongo. Our stop on the way home topped off the perfect day. A & W hamburgers for lunch.

I was so excited that I emailed the essay to my sister and dad. My sister responded first. She didn’t remember that day, but she remembered Pongo. I wasn’t disappointed. She was three years younger than me. It was my dad’s response that cast a sad shadow over my shoulder. He didn’t recall the day either. He said he had ‘a vague memory of Pongo’.

What? One of the most important days of my childhood and he couldn’t remember it? I was crushed. Until I realized that over fifty years had passed since that grand event. I forgave him for not remembering.

This reminded me of something I read in Writing Life Stories. Author Bill Roorbach tells a story that his sister likes to frequently re-tell. It involves a younger brother, sucking on a blue toy bolt until it stuck to his lip. The sister finally wrestled it off and when it came loose the younger brother’s lip swelled to tremendous proportions and everyone freaked.

Except…the author claims that his sister wasn’t there. He was. The bolt was yellow, not blue. And he and his mother both laughed about it.

He writes, “Memory is faulty. That’s one of the tenets of memory. And the reader comes to memoir understanding that memory is faulty, that the writer is going to challenge the limits of memory, which is quite different from lying.”

He also writes, “Even facts distort: What’s remembered, recorded, is never the event itself, no matter how precise the measurement…”

As I think of how memory distorts through the years, I wonder about my own collage of collected memories. How valid are they? Are they all as true as I believe they are?

But then I read these words that made me realize that my own accuracy isn’t the important part. The most vital part of our family legacies are the memories themselves. Carol Lachappelle, in Finding Your Voice Telling Your Stories, shares: The poet Anne Sexton wrote, “It doesn’t matter who my father was, it matters who I remember he was.”

Who I remember he was – my dad is wonderful after all. Even if he doesn’t remember my beloved Pongo.

ABOUT OUR GUEST AUTHOR

Trisha Faye writes from Texas where a cast of furry kitties vie for her keyboard space. Many of her stories use family memories in them – wherever she can work them in. On other days, she scrounges through antique stores searching for other’s family memories to use in her writing. Trisha’s newest book, The POW’s Legacy, tells of a special nativity scene created by German POWs in Iowa in 1945, which is still displayed to this day. You can find Trisha at www.trishafaye.com.

Rebecca D’Harlingue
Written by Rebecca D’Harlingue

Award-winning author Rebecca D’Harlingue writes about seventeenth-century women forging a different path. Her debut novel, The Lines Between Us, won an Independent Press Award and a CIBA Chaucer Award. Her second novel, The Map Colorist, won a Literary Titan Award and a Firebird Book Award.

View Rebecca’s PLW Profile

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