Sunday, March 23, 2008

Manufactured Memories

A smile-inducing excerpt from Rosemary Sutcliff's Blue Remembered Hills.

For some years, I thought that I could remember being born. Later, I realised that I only remembered what I had been told about being born - by my mother, who was of the stuff minstrels are made, but singularly unaware of the effect that her stories might have on a small daughter who believed implicitly in every word she uttered. So then, my birth-memory, via my mother, was of being brought by the stork in the middle of a desparate snowstorm. I was really intended for Mrs. McPhee who lived next door, and who had, said my mother, made ready whole drawers full of baby-clothes including tiny kilts, and decided to call me Jeannie; but in the appalling snow he lost his way and came knocking on our door, begging to be taken in for the night, failing which he would have to go to the police, and I would be put in an orphanage. It was a very bad storm, and my teeth were chattering; so my mother took pity on us and let us come in and sit by the fire and gave us both hot cocoa, after which the stork departed, leaving me behind and promising to come back for me next day. He never came, and so there I still was, with Mummy and Daddy, two or three years later. I was a trusting child, or possibly just plain gullible. I never thought to wonder why, if the story were true, I had not merely been handed over the garden fence to my rightful owners next morning. Nor did it occur to me that at age zero, I would have been unlikely to have teeth to chatter.

It was a grief to me that I did not truly belong to my parents, but presumably I was unable to make this known; and when I was nearly four, and somebody said to me, in my mother's presence, 'What's your name, little girl?' to which I replied in a voice quivering with emotion, 'I'm really little Jeannie McPhee, but I'm living with Daddy and Mummy just now,' my mother was the world's most surprised and horrified woman. But she never learned.

As I tell our kids occassionally, we can know the story we tell but can't be certain about the story that is heard.

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