Sunday, June 28, 2009

They Say Your Memory Is The First Thing To Go, I Forgot What The Second One Is

I'm reading David Carr's The Night of the Gun, a remarkable book. Much of it deals with memories, and how Carr remembers events from the eighties differently than do his friends and former co-workers. One line I read last night grabbed my attention: "The power of a memory can be built through repitition, but it is the memory we are recalling when we speak, not the event. And stories are annealed in the telling, edited by turns each time they are recalled until they become little more than chimeras."

Memorial Day weekend, my two best friends Scott and Joel and I stood on Joel's Dad's front lawn and had a beer as we stared out at the lake. We three grew up together at the lake. Scott pointed to the opposite shore to where his aunt and uncle used to have a cabin. Almost immediately, the "get the hell out of there" story came up.

It was in the early or mid eighties. We were in a boat in front of Scott's relative's cabin fishing for sunnies. At some point, we heard a car door slam behind a neighboring cabin. Then two little boys wearing life jackets came running down the stairs to the dock and the boatlift. They hopped in the parked boat and started playing like they were driving it, yelling and having a gleeful time. Soon after, a man walked down, stood on shore, pointed at the boys, and said: "Get the hell out of there." The boys had shut up once they saw him, and upon his command quietly and dutifully left the boat with their heads hanging and went back up to the cabin.

It was quite a sight and we three laughed over it. We imagined the two tykes riding the hour's drive from Fargo, wearing those life jackets the whole way, just dying to go for a boat ride once they got there. "Get the hell out of there" became a favorite catchphrase, and the story has been repeated endlessly over the years.

But on this afternoon in 2009, we started to notice discrepancies in our individual recollections of the incident. For instance, we differ over the exact gesture used by the man. Did he point with just his index finger or was it the index finger and the middle finger together? I see the man as an older guy in his fifties, probably the boys' grandfather but Scott and Joel see a younger man, a father. We realized the exact details were foggy after twenty-five years or so, but the gist of the story remains true: The boys ran down to the dock and into the boat with life jackets on and the man did say "get the hell out of there."

And my favorite part of this bull session was when Joel said: "You know, I'm not even sure if I was with you guys that day. I might just be convinced I was because I've heard this story so many times."