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Whose Memory is it Anyway?

Updated: Mar 8

A few months ago my younger sister and I were talking about the day my dad died. It was a quarter of a century ago but I have a vivid, very clear memory. The people from the mortuary came in and rolled Dad out through the kitchen with a big maroon velvet drape over him. I remember thinking it was gaudy and that Dad would have hated it. My younger sister’s memory is that Dad was covered in white gauze. We didn’t snap a photo that day so we’ll never know whose memory is the real one.


I have two sisters, one twin, and a younger one born twenty-one months after us. We’re all in our fifties now and, as we’ve gotten older we’ve had multiple moments of memory confusion.


I’ll tell a story and one of them will say, “That didn’t happen to you, that happened to me.”

There was the time at Camp Duncan where they had vessels of green Koolaid flowing freely and my poop turned green. I was sure that was me but my twin swears it was her. Maybe it was both of us. And the time we did a skit of the Family Feud with my cousins at the lake cottage and I thought I was the host Richard Dawson but the photos clearly show that it was my younger sister.


My daughter, now sixteen, recently said, “Mom, I have a vague memory of being about five-years-old, sitting in a lounge chair at the pool watching you and your friends doing water aerobics. Did that really happen?” Her memory is already starting to question itself.

My partner has an amazing memory. Sometimes while we’re eating dinner she’ll remember a time when she was six or seven and tell a story in vivid detail, with utter certainty. I envy that clarity.


My memories float around in a stewy urn with the memories of my sisters. When I want to recall a moment from my history, I dip my ladle into a steaming cauldron and retrieve a slopping serving of something that happened to me mixed with something that happened to one of them.


Recently I wrote a piece for and my younger sister read it. She later sent me a text saying, “That was me at the gumball machine and I was two, not four.” Once she told me, it sounded familiar, like that was totally possible that it wasn’t me. Honestly, I’m not an adventurer and the whole escapade sounds more like something my little sister would have done at age two.

The early childhood years my sisters and I shared were messy. It was a chaotic and unpredictable time. Sometimes I imagine the three of us like little sailors on a schooner, riding the turbulent ocean waves together, holding on tight, eyes squinted against the splashing saltwater until we got safely to shore.


The community memory my sisters and I share, this cistern of history, is the result of riding on that little lifeboat together. We were siblings but we were more than that. We were pieces of a puzzle, integral to each other’s survival. We were intimately connected through the experiences we were living in those days.


Now, as we age our memories seem to be overlapping even more than they used to, intersecting like stitches on a cross hatch quilt. I can tell my memory isn’t what it used to be. I can’t remember a lot of things so I draw more heavily from the collective pool of my sisters and me.


Whether the memory is about me or one of my sisters doesn’t really matter. Often I don’t really know who the memory belongs to. Memories aren’t proprietary. They’re owned by whoever captures them in their mind in any particular moment. I love it when a childhood memory visits me. The older I get the less clear the details become, but I still get to travel down memory lane and I almost always get to spend some time with my sisters.

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