In the most basic of terms, writing memoir is sharing your story. Offering an account of your memories in story form. Your recall of events is intimate and necessary to your story.
However, in my case, I have two siblings, both brothers, who have very different memories of our growing up. My older brother is 14 years older than I and my younger brother eight years younger. We basically grew up in different times and almost in separate families.
With such an age range among us, it is not unusual that we would have different memories. But what about the overlap?
I have memories from both my brothers’ high school days. And I am sure they have memories of high school days too. Are our memories the same? Who has the lock on those memories?
Here’s a photo of a Christmas gathering some time during the 1960s. My mother’s family is all together for the most part. That much I think we could agree on, or could we? Will my younger brother note that some of Mom’s siblings are absent? Will he know why our older brother and his family aren’t in the photo?
Brad is front and center kneeling on the floor. At the time he is probably eight years old. I immediately know the absent family members and why. My older brother and his family had left before this photo was made because one of their children became ill. An aunt and uncle are missing because they had another commitment that afternoon. I doubt Brad would recall such details.
Another family photo was made on the day my older brother graduated from high school. Our mother took the photo outside his best friend’s home, and that’s his best friend, Buzz, in the photo with him. What Gene would likely not remember that I do clearly is that I loved him so much at that time in my life for a variety of reasons that it hurt terribly when I learned I could not have my picture taken with them. Devastated, I cried until I could not cry any more. My guess is that an 18-year old graduating from high school is not going to remember such details when looking back at this photo.
I share these photos and my memories with you to show the contrast in memories the three of us might have at any given time in our lives.
Neither of these photos plays a principal role in my memoir, but they do show the disparity of recall among people experiencing the same date or time or event. Whose recall is correct?
Each one is correct based on his or her ability to recall
the events as they experienced that day, time or event.
I urge you to write your story as you know it. If there is concern about another’s role in your story, change the name or talk with that person to compare your recall. Perhaps your recall will be the same; perhaps not. If the latter, then you will need to decide whether to include that story, hopefully with the other’s agreement, leave it out or maybe change the name.
Remember, your memoir is your story!
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Coming up next: On Tuesday next, I’ll be writing on writer’s block. Hope you’ll drop by!
Sherrey, you are on fire with insight and inspiration! What a vivid illustration of how memories can differ. Photos are a powerful way to evoke memories and it’s clear we interpret them from our own frame of reference. Thank you for sharing these pearls 🙂
Kathy, I don’t know how or why it suddenly occurred to me after this last trip that although my brothers and I shared the same parents and experiences, primarily due to our age range we saw things so differently. It was a stunning moment, one of those light bulb kind. 🙂 Thanks for your generous comments. 🙂
Your memories are your emotional ones, your brothers would see and feel differently from you. Who is missing from the photo is factual I’m on only child with close cousins when we were younger. I know their memories differ from mine. Their emotional ones..
Sue, I must have missed the mark in explaining my thesis here. Definitely our experiences are emotional ones and each of us would see and feel differently. Without going into the details of our abuses from our mom, these photos represent only a visual to explain that often in memoir writing family members attempt to insert their memories and emotions into our writing, if at all possible. The true mantra of a memoir writer should be I’m telling my story based on my memories, not yours. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear.
You prob made it clear – I just can’t read 😀
Reblogged this on Wyndy Dee and commented:It amazes me how different my brother and I recall our troubled childhood. He is younger, but only two years. We remember a lot almost the opposite.
You’re right on about that fact, Sherrey – siblings have different experiences and, consequently, different memories. Much as been written about that phenomenon. We had a family get-together on my last visit to South Africa; my book became under fire (in a loving way) for ‘not getting some of my facts right.’ I just laughed and invited them to either enjoy my facts or write their own books.
Belinda, thanks for stopping by! Enjoyed reading your recounting of your experiences on your last visit to South Africa. I loved your admonition to those who questioned your facts. 🙂
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