No, I don’t.
More than for any other reason, I decided to write this blog as a way of preserving memories. Sure, there will be some posts concerning things going on right now or recently, but it’s mostly about my past. And I don’t remember much of it. Having photos helps.
The other day I was thinking about where I’ve lived in my lifetime and it was more difficult than it should be, more difficult than it is for most people, I’d wager. When exactly was my family in Germany? Were we in Mannheim before Munich? Did we even live in both of those cities? I have no memory of either, but then, I was a small child at the time. It gets more troubling after that. I know – because I’ve been told so – that my family subsequently moved to Virginia, Tehran and Albuquerque. Or was it Tehran, Virginia and then Albuquerque? I know Albuquerque was the third stop of those three but I’m not entirely sure about the first two.
The only memory I have of living in Virginia is being in the driveway when my dad got home. After getting out of the car (no idea what kind of car), he tossed a baseball to me. Rolled it up the driveway to where I was standing. When I say I remember, I actually just remember remembering. It may never have happened – I have no details. Was my dad in uniform? Was anyone else there? Was it a sunny summer day or cloudy winter day? No idea. I don’t actually haven image in mind, just a vague notion that it happened.
Tehran carries a few memories, but none so vivid that I can’t be sure they aren’t manufactured out of what I’ve been told over the years. President Kennedy was shot while we were in Tehran but I no longer remember learning of what happened that day. We lived in two houses in the city, one an older castle-like affair with a big back yard and the other a more modern house, but I don’t remember which was first. I like to think that my parents took me and my sisters to various places in Iran but other than an excursion to some place on the Caspian Sea, I’ve got nothing. It may be that I experienced very little of the country of Iran outside Tehran. The Caspian Sea trip itself is a blank except a vague recollection of us kids being tasked with picking chads out of plastic place mats, which is a weird thing to remember. We had a couple of dogs. One died under the wheels of our driver’s car and one broke his (her?) front legs, although I have no image of either pet. Two or three cats, although I’m hazy on which ones. Snowball and Tiger were there but I don’t think Tiger came back with us. I have pictures of Snowball in Albuquerque but none of Tiger, so I don’t know what he (she?) looked like. Was there a third cat?
A friend of mine told me that he had sailed on a ship from somewhere in the world to another place, I don’t remember where. Croatia to Australia perhaps. I looked up the ship’s name and it turned out to be a later incarnation of the SS America, a ship I sailed on either going to Germany or coming back. Or was it Iran? I have no memories of the ship. I only know I was on it from being told so by family members. Which is a real shame, because the SS America apparently was quite a ship – sister to the more famous SS United States. By the way, the America stills exists but only as a wreck off the coast of the Canary Islands, an unworthy fate.
My time in Albuquerque is less fuzzy, although not by a great deal. In the past couple of decades, I’ve visited our house there while I was driving across country, something I’ve done a number of times. It’s been interesting to see it change over the years – going from a nice neighborhood house, to rather dumpy, then to fairly upscale. On one visit, I decided to find something else that exists in my memory. In 1968 or so (guessing – that’s about midway of our time in Albuquerque), I had an acquaintance in junior high who was shot and killed. I think it was determined to be an accident but, as I ‘recall’, negligent homicide would have fit the facts better. In any case, the school erected a small memorial to the kid, a water fountain in the courtyard with a plaque. I went to the school – Wilson Junior High (now Wilson Middle School) – and checked in at the office during a class period so no kids would be around. The people at the school were a bit suspicious but gave me a pass anyway, telling me to be gone by the time the period was over.
I could not find the fountain. The courtyard isn’t very big so there’s no chance I missed it. On my way out, I asked the people in the office. None of them had knowledge of such a fountain ever existing.
What had I remembered? Was it a real memory or something fabricated over time? Does the water fountain exist but in a different place, such as the elementary school I attended prior to Wilson JH? Maybe. I gave up, having been reasonably certain I’d find it in that courtyard.
I could go on. As the time between events and the present decreases, I do, of course, remember more and more. But even recent times are full of holes. The Telescope Peak story I posted earlier occurred in 2010, six years ago. In order to relate that tale, I had to study a lot of photographs and some maps. Even then, when I wanted to include the photo of me pointing to Telescope Peak from Badwater, I couldn’t find it at first so I asked Nancy what year we had done that. The next year? Two years later? No, she said. We did it right after the hike, maybe the next day. Oy.
It’s disconcerting to me to have lost so much of who I am. My time on the submarine, on the ship in San Diego, in Australia, Three Mile Island. I’ve been to a lot of cool places and done things that should be memorable. But perhaps the best indicator of what I’m missing is professional. I’ve worked for an engineering company for eighteen years or so. During that time, I was part of dozens of projects. It’s the nature of this kind of engineering that you rely on prior project experience to minimize costs and mistakes. During many project proposal meetings – where key players would gather to discuss the specifics of what a client wanted and how best to approach our response – I listened to person after person describe past projects in great detail. I’d normally just sit there and take notes. I couldn’t even remember the relevant projects much less the details that other people recalled so easily. Knowing this about myself, I kept just about everything from my projects – calculations, notes, drawings, everything. It’s the only way I could hope to remember doing things which my company was relying on me to be an expert about.
Earlier this week, I was talking with Nancy about our house here in Atlanta, specifically about the roof. When was it last re-done? My memory told me not since we moved in twenty years ago, although it was added on to during a renovation twelve or so years ago. Or so. No, she said. We had the roof re-shingled about seven or eight years ago. What!? I got nuthin’ on that.
On it goes. My life is not my own. It belongs to some fictional Robin whom I know little about. I’d like to meet that guy and swap stories. Maybe over a beer if I can remember where the pub is.
4 thoughts on “Do You Remember …”
Well, *that’s* a fine and unnerving account!–memory, like a strong outgoing tide, the growing awareness that your memories may not be your own but merely your reshaping of what you’ve heard (or overheard).
At least one memory researcher has suggested that such shards of early memory are particularly vivid not because they’re accurate but because humans continually revise and reinforce them as we age. Brrrrr
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Yes, it can be pretty unnerving. Sometimes I’m absolutely dumbfounded when I learn of something that happened fairly recently and I’ve got nothing.
My memory is almost as bad as yours, although I also have a memory of being tasked with picking chads out of plastic place mats. My memory is that it was just you and me, not Cory, and it was in the dining room of the hotel we first stayed at when we arrived in Tehran. The dining room manager or chef gave us this task because we were bored and tired of being cooped up in a hotel. I remember where we sat and that there were white table clothes. Does that ring a bell?
Unfortunately, no bells are rung. It seems I don’t even remember the story correctly if it was a Tehran hotel.