Stories, Memories and Families

‘Tis the season to gather the family together, sit around the table and misremember the family history. For decades now, my brother and I have been sparring over the true version of events from our lives. You would think that one of us was delusional, or perhaps had simply not been paying attention. Our versions of past event rarely match and sometimes don’t even overlap.

Yes, memory is a funny thing. Maurice Chevalier sings, “Oh yes, I remember it well” as Hermione Gingold corrects every detail. We ask other relatives or trade stories we’ve heard over the years in a vain attempt to triangulate the details. We’re never successful. Sometimes, we discover new information that fills in some gaps in our memory. Sometimes, we decide to agree on one version or another. Sometimes, the gap is simply insurmountable. When we were younger, we’d fight about who was right. Now we more easily simply agree to disagree and move on. It’s much better this way.

I’ve recently come to understand that this is not peculiar to my brother and I. My sister-in-law mentioned that you would think that she and her brother had grown up in different households. It dawned on me that, yes, they had. And so had my brother and I. And so does each of us, with the possible exception of identical twins. Different age, different gender, different level of understanding, selective perception – all of these create different stories. And, of course, each is true.

This morning my brother and I were watching hummingbirds. We saw the same thing and something completely different. From my view, the coloring of the birds was different from his. From years of experience, he could identify frequent visitors. different color patterns, different arrangements of feathers that, even when I stood behind him, were invisible to me. The joy and wonder, though, was the same.

Later, my sister-in-law tracked down an old Garry Moore recitation that I thought I remembered perfectly. Of course I did. I got the glowworm’s name wrong. I got the story wrong. The only thing I had right was the last line. We agreed that the search wasn’t really worth it, but at least I can put it out of my mind now.

In the end, perhaps it is simply the shared feelings that are important. We will always have different stories. We will see different things in photographs. As I relax into the differences, I find my experiences become richer.

Wishing you all many skewed and wonderful stories and happy shared holiday memories.

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