Erratum for the Great Skateboard Caper*

*Note: Because BLM is a food blog, I felt the need to include at least something about food in the title.

capers (1).jpg

Speaking of capers…

If Ann can open today’s blog with a rhetorical question so can I.  Her question is  “What commonality do carrots, beets, asparagus, and chiles share?” My rhetorical question is, can there be any commonality in shared memories?  This question has led me to revisit a previous post, Skateboard Scooters and Big Sister Justice: Maybe a Vivid Memory

Skateboard erratum

Just to refresh your memory, the post was about my “vivid” memories of an incident from over 60 years ago.   I recounted the time when an older kid commandeered my skateboard scooter while I was at an outdoor basketball court near our home.  I remember coming home in tears and telling Helen, my older sister, about it and seeing her jump on her bike and ride off to the courts where she confronted the “bully.” She allegedly grabbed him by the shirt and whacked him on the cheek.  I also recall my mom arriving home at about the time Helen took off on her bike and my mom driving off to the scene after hearing my story.

Helen with bike3

Helen with her bike

Just before I posted that account I called Helen and asked her what she remembered about what happened.  Her recollection was much different than mine.  She didn’t remember anything about a skateboard or a basketball court and she thought the “bullying” had to do with my being forced to eat spider webs. But she did confirm that she confronted the older kid and slapped him on the face.

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Parts of my mother’s journal

The reason I am revisiting this story is that I discovered another wrinkle to my version of this “vivid” memory when I recently came across an entry in my mother’s journal that I had previously overlooked (I wrote about her journal in an earlier post).  She entitled  it “You Don’t Hurt My Brother.”  Here is an excerpt:

One day when Andy was around 8 or 9 years old, he and [a friend] wanted to go to the High school to shoot baskets. …  After a while, here came Andy, white as a sheet, saying two boys had taken their basket ball, and was making them eat spider webs.  I said, get in the car, we’ll go see what was going on.  Well — Big sister Helen jumped on her bike, and was gone like a flash.  When we got there and out of the car,  Helen had this big kid by the shirt, he was bawling, and his face was real red, only the white print of her hand on his cheek.  You don’t hurt my brother!!

My mother’s written account added details I don’t recall at all.   First, she had me in the car with her driving to the scene of the crime.  Second, evidently there were two boys, not just one, bullying me and my friend.  And finally, it was a basketball, not my beloved skateboard scooter, that was taken from me. Try as I may, I can’t mentally reconstruct these details at all.

Memry Illusion

It turns out that memory discrepancies like this are not that unusual.  According to psychologist Julia Shaw, author of The Memory Illusion,

comparing our recollections with those of others has its flaws, since memory corruption affects everyone. Moreover, false memories are easy to take at face value if we recall them in considerable detail: “We often assume that there is no way that a complex description could be fictitious.” The only truly reliable form of corroboration, Shaw says, is hard evidence, like photos, emails, and social media posts that document past events.  (as reported in Psychology Today)

heavyweight podcast

Listen to the Rob” episode of the Heavyweight podcast.

You can find a great example of such “memory illusions” in one of Jonathon Goldstein’s Heavyweight podcasts (thanks for telling me about this, Travis). It is about a man who remembers breaking his arm as a kid but the rest of his family says it never happened. You’ve got to hear this episode and find out if he really did break his arm, which is not clear until the end.  It’s a great tale.

So, because it was written down, my mother’s journal depiction may be the most accurate account about what I originally thought was a “great skateboard caper.” For some reason, the “great basketball caper” doesn’t have the same headline pizzaz.   But keep in mind that my mom wrote down her own recollections at least 50 years after the event.

OK then, can we ever be sure of what happened?  Maybe that bully himself has the clearest vision of the incident and I should track him down after all of these years to find out.  My guess is that he would recall little more than the pain from my big sister’s slap.  I have to admit that secretly I hope he vividly remembers that part of it.

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