I was looking through an old family album the other day, trying to find a photograph to send to my brother of us standing outside my grandmother’s house. I was sure this photo showed a small door surrounded by roses. But the only one I could find had us in front of a much larger, ornate door, with no roses to be seen. How was that possible? Had she taken out the roses sometime before?
I checked with my mother and she confirmed there had never been a rose bush round the door. So why did I remember the colour and the sweet scent of those flowers – what was their significance? I still remembered the times we spent staying with my grandmother fondly, but now I questioned what else I might have forgotten or mis-remembered about her. It was almost as though that memory had become corrupted.
That got me thinking about our memory and capacity for editing in or out details. Perhaps we’re just not able to recall the information so our brains simply morph in other memories to replace or augment them. Perhaps someone tells us something or we see another photograph and implant those ‘false’ memories into the real ones. You might start questioning your own recall and worry that you’ll get other memories ‘wrong’.
When you sit down to write about these treasured memories, of your childhood holidays spent with grandparents, where you smiled happily in (rose-covered) doorways, ask yourself if these small details really matter. I don’t think they do. You might remember differently and then learn something new when you discuss it with family and friends. You could make the discovery part of the story. It’s more than likely that once you’ve written your life story, no one will challenge you on these smaller details, but if they do, it can actually present a nice conversation starter and a way to enjoy your different memories of the past together.
Life isn’t always rosy but how you choose to remember and present those memories makes it your story. The smell of those flowers - my grandmother's favourite - will always remind me of her. And that’s what really matters.