Monday, December 13, 2010
We are the stories we tell. No matter the real truth of an event or accomplishment, most people will only know what we choose to tell them. So it's not surprising that we may embellish, restructure or omit certain facts in what we say. I got to thinking about this because of two interesting occurrences. First, my brothers and I are in the process of parceling out my father's belongings. He passed away three years ago this December, and now my stepmother is ready to sell my father's studio. So it's time to decide who gets what. The second occurrence was a recent discussion I had with my sons about their early soccer lives. They had a different memory than I did of the same event.
Among my father's possessions are two large antique pine chests and an antique pine dresser. My brothers knew they were very old but knew nothing about their history. Apparently I was the only one to whom my parents had told about their background. When I had first gotten married, my mom had given me the twin to the pine dresser to furnish our first apartment. At that time my dad had told me that the two dressers and the two chests had been built to fit into a wagon his great-great grandfather had used to move from Ohio to Fort Howard, WI then later to Waupun, WI. The dressers and chests were lined up on either side of the wagon with mattresses laid down the middle. The dressers held clothing, tools, dishes, and books while the chests held all the supplies such as flour, salt, cured meats, and potatoes. They hung the cooking pots, traps, and larger tools off the back of the wagon. At night they would stop and make a fire, cook, and then go to sleep on the floor of the wagon all bunched together. It was the precursor of the RV.
Now I have no idea how much of this history is truth and how much is extrapolation from years of studying the migration of pioneers to the west. I do know that my ancestors moved from Ohio to Fort Howard and then to Waupun because my dad did a fair amount of detailed genealogy including having me drive him up to Waupun on a visit so he could check out documents at the local library and Congregational church when my great-great-great grandfather was a pastor. My dad also has the diary this pioneer wrote during his travels, but it doesn't really prove that this furniture was his. So I have to take my dad's word for it and also consider that I may have unwittingly embellished the story with my own preconceived notions of how one would move in a wagon in the 1840s. On the other hand, I do remember my great grandfather telling me how when he was five years old he and his family went down to the railway station to watch Lincoln's funeral train go by. I love that story because it connects me and my children to a piece of history that seems so distant but is actually just three or four generations removed. I can't verify that the story is true, but my great-grandfather was a pastor and the son of a pastor, so I'm assuming he wouldn't lie. No matter, I'm happy to repeat it because of how wonderful the story is.
A few years ago the boys played in at a tournament up in Green Bay. Robbie was guest playing for Bryce's team which was already playing up two years, so Robbie was playing up four years. A 13-year-old playing with 17-year-olds would already be at a height disadvantage that was only exaggerated with Robbie, who for most of his life languished in the lower 5% on the growth chart,. These U-18 players took one look at Robbie and surmised that he'd never be a threat. After his second goal, they were less sure. Finally in frustration, as Robbie was dribbling to the net, one of the opposing defenders wrapped his arms around Robbie and threw him, wrestling style, to the ground. The referee indicated play on. Robbie, none too happy, let the referee know of his displeasure at the call and received a yellow card for his dissention. When we were talking about this recently, the boys disagreed that the referee didn't call a foul. I am sure he didn't because the foul was in the box and should have resulted in a PK. The boys are sure it happened outside the box and did result in a free kick. And my husband coyly doesn't remember either way. I like my story because it shows Robbie's feistiness and how occasionally referees erred against him because he was good enough to hold his own and didn't need their help. Told the boys' way, it's just another story of a foul.
In our lives we collect lots of stories and each one serves a purpose, either to illustrate a point, make us feel good, provide context to other stories or serve as a rebuttal. When our kids play lots of games, we collect lots of stories which end up as anecdotes during parties, holiday letter news or a way to connect with our past. It's not surprising that over time those stories get refined, expanded and polished into a new truth that's usually not too far off the mark, but also isn't really the way it happened. We can be forgiven for those stories because they do no harm. They aren't lies to get us out of trouble, or fabrications to bolster our resume, or stepping stones to deeper deceit. They arise out of pride and form the fabric of our past. If some of the stitches are missing or doubled up it just gives the fabric texture and originality. I'll continue to tell the story of the foul that wasn't a foul because first of all I think I'm remembering it right and second of all it doesn't matter if I'm right or not because the story is just a way to reveal something about the character of my son which is the important truth.
I can't ask anyone if what I remember about the chests and dresser is exactly what I heard. And even if it was, there's no telling if my dad or his father or an ancestor down the line misremembered or misrepresented the real story. It actually doesn't matter. We won't be going on Antiques Road Show and discovering that we have a chest now worth $100,000 because of that story. One brother plans to take one of the chests up to his cabin in the mountains to store blankets and pillows and another brother will use the remaining chest for his tools. Someday they'll pass those chests on and tell my story but will probably add a few highlights of their own. I plan to tell Robbie's story to his future wife and children so that they can learn the nature of this man. The story doesn't matter, but the intention does.