Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Memory Fault

                                                    Virginia M. Packard  1912-1997

  Virginia Woolf wrote, "Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that."  This sentiment was brought to bear during a reunion with my brothers last month.  We spoke about our parents, and while recollections of our father were generally coherent, those of my mother were dramatically askew.  I am the youngest, with two brothers, one three years older and the other six years older than me.  When we spoke, it was of "my" mother.  She appeared to be an entirely different person to each of us.  Whoever she was, we each believed we were her favorite child.  I find that a remarkable achievement on her part.  Our rearing was markedly different.  My eldest brother was born during the deprivation of World War II.  They were apprehensive parents, following B. F. Skinner's draconian schedule.  When he was a toddler, he wore a baby harness and was staked in the yard of their Brooklyn apartment.  Someone called child services. (I would never have believed this but my mother confirmed it.)
  The next brother was a sunny kid.  Skinner was abandoned for Doctor Spock.  My father was emotionally removed, reportedly because his second son resembled his mother-in-law.  But this brother was the 'easy' child.
   By the time I came along, I think they were out of dogma.  I remember a happy childhood marred only by weekly weigh-ins with both parents in attendance.  Food is and was always an issue.
   I brought my mother's travel diary from 1958 to the reunion, and read it aloud after cocktails.  I was ten in 1958 and my brothers thirteen and sixteen.  My father had earned success with "The Hidden Persuaders," the year before and decided to take the family to Europe for the summer. Illogically, he intended to write his next book along the way. Mother noted in her diary that we started the trip with twenty-two suitcases.  That morphed into fifty-one suitcases by the trip's end.  Part of it was doubtless Dad's research material, but I know one (mine) was full of breadsticks that I had collected from dinner tables across Europe.  It was with great bitterness that I discovered, on the ship home, that breadsticks go stale.
Given our age differences, perhaps it was to be expected, but Mother's entries sparked different memories for each of us.  Having four viewpoints of an event provided a kaleidoscopic quilt of reality.  Whose memory was true?  Does it matter?  Naturally, I think my version is the bedrock.  As Mark Twain once wrote, "When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happen or not."