I have thousands of memories. Some of them of things that actually happened.
I wonder how many?
That’s the problem. Yes, there is arguably a greater problem, that being when you can’t remember at all. That’s not good. My mother had that in her final years. It didn’t seem to bother her. Or maybe it did, and she forgot about it.
For the fortunate most of us, it’s “That’s not me. I’m in the clear. I remember stuff.”
And it feels good. Of course, you inevitably get older and there’s that, a little “drop-off”, but even then, the “library” is relatively intact. Which is important, or at least it feels important, because, in some meaningful way, the accumulation of the things you remember, that’s pretty much…you.
You start losing that stuff, and it’s like your “you” is shrinking. To the point where, when you can no longer remember anything… you’re gone. I mean, you’re still standing there, but inside, the apartment your memories once lived in has been cleaned out. They can put in a new tenant. The essential “You” has vacated the premises.
There’s another situation that, though less serious, is, I believe, more pervasive. And that’s two things. One is selective memory – the things you remember and the things that conveniently slipped your mind. The other is re-edited memory. The re-edited memory is comfortably archived in your head. The problem is,
Things factually didn’t happen that way.
The example that has recently come to mind is not the best example; it’s just the example that has recently come to mind. One of its deficiencies is that it requires some rudimentary understanding of baseball. Which you may or may not have.
Let’s get “interactive” here. Substitute my memory with a memory of your own, a memory that makes the same point, but does not involve baseball. Think instead of something you remember that, when you mention it to someone who participated in that event, remembers it an entirely different way. And they have indisputable evidence they’re right, so it’s more than simply a matter of opinion.
“I never sang in the church choir.”
“Yes, you did. You stood right beside me. And I drove you there every week.”
Make that your “baseball” story. It will work equally as well. And you’ll feel like you participated. Which is a bonus.
In the meantime, I’ll do baseball.
Recently, a kinescope – a recording of a television program made by filming the picture from the video monitor – has been unearthed of the seventh (and deciding) game of the 1960 World Series, between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees. The film was discovered in (Pirates part-owner) Bing Crosby’s wine cellar. This was the first time it was ever rebroadcast.
This was a memorable Game Seven, the series won in the bottom of the ninth inning by a dramatic home run, hit by the Pirates’ second baseman, Bill Mazeroski.
The home run was what made it special – it was the only time in history that the World Series was determined by a ninth inning home run in the seventh game. But that’s not what made this game (which I had watched live in 1960) memorable to me. What made it memorable was what happened half an inning earlier.
I remember (Yankee superstar) Mickey Mantle, picked off of first base, eluding an inelegantly awkward tag by Pirates first baseman, “Rocky” Nelson, and diving safely back to the bag.
Why was that noteworthy to me? It was noteworthy, because before he joined the Pirates, “Rocky” Nelson played for the minor league (“Triple A”) Toronto Maple Leafs, the team I rooted for when I was a kid.
I knew “Rocky” Nelson. Not personally; I knew him as a ballplayer. I knew that, one season with the Leafs, Nelson had cracked a league-leading forty-three home runs. I knew his signature batting stance – a lefty, poised at the plate, his right leg bent at the knee at an almost ninety-degree angle, making him look like he was sitting in a chair. “Rocky” Nelson was so important to me that, though normally a Yankee fan, in the 1960 series, I was rooting for the Pirates.
“Rocky” Nelson had been playing admirably in Game Seven. In the first inning, he had slugged a two-run homer. But then, when the game was on the line,
He did “that thing.”
In a critical moment, “Rocky” Nelson (a minor league name if I’ve ever heard one; the major league version was “Rocky” Colavito – you hear the difference?), Nelson had Mickey Mantle picked off, entirely at his mercy, and then, to my horror, embarrassment and chagrin, “Rocky” Nelson
Missed the tag!
The play was a game-changer. While the statue-like Nelson was lunging and the more athletic Mantle, a run scored, tying the game, Nelson’s ineptitude thus necessitating Mazeroski’s ninth inning heroics.
It was exciting to watch the first rebroadcast of the game after half a century. But what made my jaw drop was that the rebroadcasting allowed to see with my own eyes that
Mickey Mantle was not picked off first base at all!
It was something else. With Mantle on first, Nelson niftily snared a sharply hit grounder, stepped on the bag – the batter was now out – after which Mantle, frozen close to the base, in a desperate maneuver, had miraculously slithered his way back.
Why does it matter that I got the memory right but a significant detail wrong? It matters, because an inaccurate memory is not a memory of the actual event. It’s something (in this case) I made up, a rewriting of reality, which I then labeled “a memory.” I tell it, and retell it, happily disseminating this recollection. The one small problem is,
The basic facts are incorrect.
“So what?” you say, and well you might. Except for this. This misremembering ignites a troubling question, that question being,
“What else am I remembering wrong?”
“Could it be…
What’s the difference between having a head full of memories, all of them wrong, and having no memory whatsoever? I’m thinking not that much. Except in the latter case, you’re a little more honest. “I don’t remember.” Instead of, “I remember exactly”, and you’re wrong.
I tell a lot of stories. Over seven hundred and fifty of them here.
I wonder how many happened the way I remember them?
Who knows? I could be a fiction writer after all.