In the context of examining the elusive “Truthfulness of Memory”, I have often felt stymied looking for the quintessential “dead certain” recollection that turned out to be incorrect.
To my dismayed though ultimately gratifying surprise, it turned out there was a disputed memory staring me smack-dabitously in the face.
I have related this story before. In fact, an allusion to it was included in my original “Mission Statement” when I initiated this enterprise nearly two thousand blog posts ago. I have decided to reprise that story because I am certain nobody out there has been with me from the beginning. If I am wrong…
Who the heck are you? (And should I in any way be concerned?)
Besides, it’s summer. And this is an ideal summer possibly bogus recollection.
Okay, so here it is.
The first time I was sent off to summer camp, I did not have the faintest idea that I was going.
The justification for the belief in the veracity of that story is grounded in two supporting pieces of evidence. No, wait – three supporting pieces of evidence. One, I am not readily susceptible to change. Two, one of my mother’s favorite sayings about me was, “He always needed a little push.” And three – if you remember my nightmarish “tooth pulling” adventure (“The Story I Didn’t Write” – 6/10/15), my mother had a propensity – in my “best interests” – for withholding significant pieces of salient information.
It was therefore not at all beyond the realm of possibility that my mother had sent me to summer camp without informing me that I was going.
When reminded of this traumatic scenario, my mother responded to my recollection with a dismissive wave of her hand. Plus some persuasive counter-evidence of her own, which was,
“What did you think happened to your clothes?”
Her troublingly reasonable rebuttal referred to the fact that the campers’ trunks and duffel bags were customarily picked up a couple of days before their departure. How was it possible, argued my mother, that my going away would be such a shocking surprise to me when my dresser drawers and bedroom clothes closet had suddenly – and in no way secretly – been emptied out?
Um… Point respectfully taken.
I can clearly recall with the appropriate trepidation – although who among us can gauge the level of appropriateness of our own trepidation? – climbing onto that Trailways bus, the doors abruptly swinging shut,
And being carried, unexpectedly, off to camp.
That sensation of trepidation was indisputably real.
The specifics behind it?
Perhaps less so.
Although, even at age seventy, I have not given up on the fact that that recollection was entirely accurate. I mean, what nine year-old boy pays attention to the contents of his dresser drawers and his clothes closet? Did you ever do that, boy or girl? I didn’t. So my recollection is possible, right? You’ll concede that it’s possible?
I did not want to go to camp. Give up the security of my bedroom. The indispensability of my television. Submit to the enforced company of strangers. The camp’s unbending regulation and routine (including a menu on which I was not consulted as to my culinary predilections.)
The single Boys’ Washhouse – I knew from previous Visitors’ Day inspection – was almost a ten-minute walk away, on the other side of a forest.
And the toilet stalls had no doors on them.
The stalls’ walls were adorned with graffitious doggerel, the likes of:
“Be like Dad
Not like Sis
Lift the seat
Before you ----.”
I am not being delicate. That is exactly how it was written, with those four unmistakable dashes.
Perhaps it was a Membership Initiation Test. For a club I wanted no part of whatsoever.
Here’s what I think happens with memory, which I once heard defined as a game of “Telephone” that you play with yourself. The core of your recollection may be accurate. But whenever you refer to it, it inevitably changes.
Perhaps the following is – at least closer – to what actually took place.
Reconstructed Recollection: I actually know I am going to camp.
Our mother is driving us – my older brother who likes camp and me who am currently in shock – to the Forest Hills High School parking area, from which the Trailways buses will be carrying us away.
I have an overpowering panic attack. Under no circumstances, I adamantly and hysterically announce, will I be I getting onto one of those buses.
To assuage my hysteria – and perhaps keep me from jumping out of the car at a stoplight, becoming a “Runaway Child”, my photograph tacked up on lampposts like a lost schnauzer – my mother finally agrees that I do not have to go.
We arrive at the “Departure Depot.” Campers’ names are read out, and my brother races to “Bus Four.” I remain, standing steadfastly beside my mother, ready, after the buses pull out, to return relievedly back to my home.
Suddenly, my Mom notices that my brother has forgotten his flashlight. (With the camp‘s single Boys’ Washhouse almost a ten-minute walk away, a flashlight is essential to illuminate your way through the intervening forest at night.)
My mother hands me the flashlight, instructing me to deliver it to my brother. I race over to “Bus Four”, I find my brother sitting inside, and I hand him his forgotten flashlight.
The “Bus Four” doors then close.
And I am carried off to camp.
Two elements of this story are indisputably correct:
I did not want to go to camp.
And I went.
The rest of it, well…
Does it really make any difference?
And by the way, the way I remember this story, and tell it slightly differently every time?