The Persistence of Memory - Salvador Dali
After lunch today we waved goodbye to the third of the annual pre-Easter family visiting groups. I have mentioned before that we have a large family between us, three pairs of own, adopted and step children, two of whom now have families of their own. We don't meet any of them very often, having removed ourselves from easy access; so visits are more prolonged and therefore more intensive than they would be if we could just meet up for the day now and then.
All went well; two-night-stays are long enough to catch up on all the news and short enough to avoid those small, pointed, exchanges, which could turn into instant flare-ups, given a drink too many, a child misbehaving, pmt or hot flushes, sailing too close to the wind on aunt Mary's legacy to one and not another or just being cooped up together 24/7. The sun shone, tempers remained amicable and we all had a happy time exchanging "do-you-remember"s.
Except that I noticed this time particularly, how much remembrances of past incidents and situations vary among the people present then and now. Why is it that we all remember the past differently? Or not at all? Occasions which were of huge importance at the time had either been forgotten, or the participants all saw them differently.
There was the story about Granny sitting in her favourite chair in the corner of the kitchen, bossing everybody around and making sure that her son, in her eyes the head of the family, had a meal waiting on the table when he came home. Except that the son knew that he had never come home for this particular meal because of his very irregular time table. Long after Granny's death, family folklore held firm that Granny's bossiness had made life hell for her daughter-in-law. How can it be that two halves of a family see the past so differently?
Another story concerned the ex-girlfriend of another son who had invited him to her parents' house for Christmas dinner; the parents then promptly asked him to pay for his share of the meal, to his utter amazement. This solecism became a major talking point at the time in his own family, even the girl-friend was mortified and joined in the ridicule of her parents, yet years later, the son now happily married to another woman, had completely forgotten the incident, whereas others in the family remembered it well.
Regretting the fact that a young student had recently dropped out of college, for no particular reason, except that he had got bored, another member of the family tactlessly reminded everybody that the boy's dad had done similarly during his own student years, making the unfortunate remark that, "it obviously runs in the family". Nobody else remembered it like she did and quickly corrected her, saying that the boy's father had simply dropped a subject, not dropped out altogether. Still, she was sure she had got it right.
Journeys down memory lane can be full of potholes tripping up the unwary traveller. There were many such potholes, I landed in one or two myself. And I had been so certain of my facts, fondly held on to for years and years. I'm still not altogether sure that my memories aren't the only true ones.
Hardest to bear are the hurts which arise out of misunderstandings which have never been cleared up and which get aired, in a moment of horribly destructive, so-called 'truth-telling'; these can rip the pleasantest family gatherings to shreds. We know that our memory can play tricks on us, there are too many family histories which are fiercely disputed by the various members and rifts might never be healed.
Perhaps we shouldn't be too certain that our own version of the past is the only valid one and simply accept that any situation is subject to a variety of interpretations. After all, somebody very wise said "it's all a matter of perception".