writing

Family Memories

Isn’t it amazing that I have memories of my childhood that my sister insists were different? How can that be? Just before we moved our mother into an assisted living facility, we had to clean out her home. We pulled out a meat grinder and instantly I remembered ham salad. Our mother made the best ever ham salad with mayo, mustard and dill pickle. My sister claimed “not so!” and we got into a heated discussion of the roast beef hash that came from the meat grinder.

Our mother always used to say that Hilary graduated high school when she was 15 and then college when she was 19. My sister again claims no. How could our own mother be wrong in the dates? Usually, it’s  customary for fathers to forget their children’s birth dates, or ages, but not mothers.  After all, fathers were at work, and mothers stayed home with their golden nuggets.

Our mother was a great story-teller but was prone to exaggeration. Being a writer, she called it poetic license. I too exaggerate and my son remembers the same story in a different light. Even without exaggeration.

And then there are the stories told children over and over from different sets of relatives. “You were a difficult baby. You wouldn’t eat. You looked like you were starved.” When I look at pictures of my sister, I think she’s beautiful. A towhead, in apparent disregard for our parent’s dark hair, she looks delicate and ethereal. Puberty set her free from her skinny self while I, the chubby one, became practically anorexic. Before that, though, our mother put a sign on me at the beach that said “Don’t feed!” because everyone wanted to give the adorable fatty an ice cream cone. I think I remember Big Baba, my great-grandmother, but I don’t really. I was only six months old when we moved away from Connecticut, where she lived. It’s just that I kept hearing stories about how she liked fresh fruit and would pull stems from our raspberry and blueberry bushes for my sister to eat. Maybe I ate some too, but one day, me, only six months old and seated in a high chair, picked up my soft-boiled egg and threw it at Big Baba. No way in hell. We have pictures of that screen porch where we ate the fruit, and pictures of me at six months propped in a high chair, but I don’t know of any six month old who can pick up a slithery egg and throw it across the room with dead on aim.

I do remember the time our mother was trying to tune our TV and was sitting on a fold up table that suddenly folded up with her stuck in it. My sister and I laughed hysterically much to our mother’s anger. And I remember the time my mother had a heart attack and ended up in the hospital for nearly a month. My sister valiantly tried to fix dinner but, honestly, cooking isn’t her forte. She remembers being furious that our father threw out the meal and fixed a sandwich. I only remember how scared I was that our mother would die.

I barely remember Grandmother Lillian, who lived with us for a time. She built an addition to our house with a new bedroom and living room. She died not longer after, and I inherited the bedroom while the living space became a den. We also inherited her violet plants which my mother kept alive until her own death. This grandmother favored me over my sister, but I don’t know why.

There is proof that everyone in my mother’s family died at the age of 62. Heart disease, undetected. The entire year my mother was 62, she told me she was waiting for death. She didn’t die, though, and lived to be 81, which coincidentally, is the year my son was born. I’m now 62, and I can’t help but wonder if this is the year I join her in Heaven.

I read a eulogy at my mother’s funeral and according to my sister, I got the years and orders wrong of when she bought her dogs. Not that it was important, but like older sisters do, they nail you for every little mistake you make, interrupting your conversations, exaggerations and memories with acute detail of their own.

If not for sisters, I guess, and our own children, our memories of the past and present would not be so jumbled, and we could swear on a stack of Bibles that we are correct, no exaggeration, just bad math skills.

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