Where memory took me…
The other day in the car, I was sharing a fond memory of the night the Detroit Lions won the Super Bowl. Another One Bites the Dust was the team song. Snow flurries danced above bonfires. I wore sparkly blue & silver stars on my headband.
I knew nothing about football, but I loved the excitement.
“Detroit never won a Super Bowl,” my partner said. He knows a lot about football.
“Are you sure?” I said, scrambling for my phone. The memory was so vivid.
In 57 seasons of Super Bowls, the Lions are one of four teams that never made it to the championship. So, what was my memory about?
The Queen song is tied to the 1980 season when I lived there, but what was the event with the bonfires and people out in the streets of Pontiac celebrating the Lions?
I may never know, but my memory of that event can no longer be that memory.
Which brings me to a fifty-year old dusty journal.
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Like an anchor from her first marriage…
A weighty brass urn traveled in the trunk of my mother’s car for years after she offloaded her first husband’s ashes at a family funeral.
I first took notice of it as an object when she put it on a bookshelf in the house.
I read the birth and death dates engraved on the brushed metal, 1920 – 1970, and asked her what month he had died. Simple math led me to the conclusion he died three months before my conception.
Was my mother a grieving widow while pregnant with me?
The thought burst the bubble of my perfect birth story.
An exercise in Life Writing is to write your birth or origin story not only as you’ve heard it but with research involved. Description of place, for example. Name of the hospital, the weather on that day of that year.
Not everyone knows their parents and some parents don’t recount the event to their children, but we know our origin in some form. In Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, she writes about her adoption and how her mother swore she was sent to the wrong crib.
That was her “birth” story her whole life until she sought out her birth mother and learned the truth.
Even though my mother and father lovingly recalled my birth story hundreds of times without dispute, I needed to find my angle.
So, I shared my urn theory with my mom and said it made a compelling story for my Life Writing assignment.
I was going to use mourning as my birth framework.
A few days later, my mother invited me into her studio. Something was on her mind, as she was rooting through documents in a file cabinet.
When she found what she was looking for, she asked:
“You think your birth wasn’t a happy one?”
She handed me the Holy Grail of my existence…
Her journal from December 1970 - August 1972!
My mother has always kept journals filled with a combination of floor plan schematics, thumbnail sketches, itemized costs of trips or projects, phone numbers, weight & health notes, and some observations with emotion.
The birth journal told the same story as my parents: she thought she was going into labor, they went to the hospital, they were sent home, she went to a studio with a friend, walked up & down many stairs, my dad ordered Chinese food, they returned to the hospital, the obstetrician was called from a black tie event, I was born, they named me Michelle, and the nurses sang Michelle, ma belle.
My father documented it in photographs.
I read my mother’s play-by-play account of the birth process, but she couldn’t have written it while it was happening. At some point afterwards, she committed the memory to paper while it was still fresh.
The journal went on to track my growth, sleep, food, crawling, walking. She wrote of my father’s surprise painting of the nursery when she was too tired to ask him to do it. How handsome he looked in his green sweater. Evidence on every page of two people excited and committed to having me in their lives.
This was an important finding as a child of divorce.
I couldn’t be sure if I hadn’t compelled my mother for proof.
Did I still write the urn story?
Of course! But with a happier ending.
YOUR TURN: Consider the truth of a well-worn, often told MEMORY. Extra challenge: test the memory with research.
Share your findings in 150 - 200 words (basically, the section about discovering the journal at 200 words).
POST YOUR STORY IN THE COMMENTS SECTION.
Click the HEART when you read a post so the writer knows to come back and read yours. Heart = Heard.
Don’t comment on my or other people’s stories.
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I have a vivid memory of the night my father came to tuck me into bed after I'd disobeyed his order to pick up a Little Golden Book I'd left it on the driveway. My infraction at age seven was not due to churlishness but fear of what was under that book: a squashed grasshopper. Yes, I had committed murder, or so I thought. When my father came into my bedroom and told me there was nothing under the book, my relief sank into the pillow of my bed. I remember seeing the pink-flowered wallpaper and feeling the firm mattress under my body and the cool breeze flowing from the north-facing window. Except that room didn't exist until I was sixteen, when my parents built three bedrooms onto the house. Before that, I shared a blue-wallpapered bedroom with my two sisters and slept in a bed with a thin soft mattress that sagged in the middle, and the window faced east. So, now I wonder, how reliable are the rest of my memories?
We remember our first concert. It’s a story to tell over and over but the details fade. At least they used to, before you could type a few specifics into the search engine. Voila! Names, dates, locations, even set lists. The memories flood back…
I started at the top. 1990 arrived with a game-changer. Dad had scored us tickets, chaperoning me into the world of live rock. I was an ecstatic 11-year-old going to my first gig and with a Beatle, with Paul McCartney. We cruised the 80 miles north on I-35, pulling into Jack Trice Stadium parking lot, home of the Iowa State Cyclones. It was a perfect summer day in July, tailgate weather. We filed into our upper deck seats and were blown away by a powerhouse of legendary songs culminating in a John Lennon Tribute Medley. I was forever altered.
It was a pivotal and lasting experience, cementing my love as a music enthusiast and performer. Forever in search of that simple melody, those timeless patterns of lyrics and notes.