Memories are Tricky

I’ve heard them a thousand times. Haven’t you? Those stories that from your family’s history that have become legend. The time Great Great Grandmother Ocie was arrested for making moonshine in West Virginia. How Great Grandfather Lonnie was decapitated by a barbed wire fence during a tornado in Tennessee. How Grandfather changed his name to Lee on the spot, the night he met and proposed to Grandmother Jean. How my Mom has never been able to drive on family trips because of the “driving in neutral down a hill” incident on their honeymoon. Real people’s lives, turned into legend.

It’s happened to things that happened in my childhood. Events that were traumatic or upsetting at the time have become family jokes. When my sister and I had our hair butchered at a salon, and my dad famously remarked, “who traded my girls in for boys?” Or things I said as a child that have been repeated to infamy by every family member. The roadside pit stop in Costa Rica that resulted in my reply, “I just skimmed the top.”

History has a way of improving upon the original. What once was a gruesome story has become a story we all gasp over at dinner parties. The world’s most embarrassing moments make for the most hilarious entertainment after the fact. Over time stories change in so many ways. History is revised by whoever tells the story for the longest amount of time and whoever is speaking the loudest. It makes me wonder how much truth is in those stories. Or are my favorite memories more myth than fact?

It’s moments when I’m lost in these thoughts that I become curious about what my kids will remember. What tall tales will they tell of our life together? What will they even recall of our short time together with their dad? How will they remember me and the way I survived? I can only hope that I’m a hero of some of these stories, and yet I fear I am the villain. It’s easy to romanticize someone who isn’t there all the time. But me? They have me in all my bloody and bruised glory, daily displaying the full range of my humanity. Can they possibly remember in a positive light?

And yet children always seem to be little optimists. One of my parent’s favorite memories of my sister and I involves a rent-by-the-hour motel room in Las Vegas. We were a camping family and very rarely stayed in anything other than the pop top of our silver Volkswagon Vanagon. After a long day of driving my parents decided we’d stop in and see what all the fuss was concerning Las Vegas. We had a fun time walking around Circus Circus and watching all the various spectacles on the strip. By the time the evening rolled around there was “no room in the inn.” Or hotels. Or even upscale motels. So we ended up in the last dingy place available. The Sue Linda Motel.

But to my sister and I, this place was the Taj Mahal. We couldn’t see the nailed down television, bolted to prevent the questionable clientele from taking it. We didn’t notice the plastic mattress pad under the sheet to protect the mattress from a variety of unsavory fluids. We didn’t hear the doors slamming all night, along with the rotating customers coming and going. All we saw a glorious room, spacious and with a real bed. We raved on and on about how wonderful it was and my parents, with knowing looks, just laughed at our naivete. (In my parents’ defense, we left not long after arriving and just drove the rest of the way home in the middle of the night.)

So, perhaps my kids will tell the story about the road trip where Avery threw up and mommy cleaned her all up in the middle-of-nowhere gas station. And how we all spent the night in a spectacular hotel room (in reality, dingy and cheap), giggling when someone tooted after we were all supposed to be asleep. And the time mommy slammed on the brakes on a rainy day to rescue a toad from the middle of the road. They might be more legend than truth by the time they are passed down to my grandchildren, but I hope the feeling behind them conveys my love for them.

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