I am 69 years old. For all of my life I have believed that my mother got married to a stunt pilot who met her at his performance at the Mercer County Fair in Harrodsburg, Kentucky when she was a teenager sometime in the 1930s. Predictably perhaps, the marriage lasted less than a year and ended badly with physical abuse.
Some years later, my mother married my dad and had three children, including me, and we all lived happily ever after, except my mom died in 1982 at the age of 62.
Understandably, neither my mom nor my dad were very forthcoming about my mother’s first mulligan marriage. I guess I picked up bits and pieces of overheard conversations. Eventually, of course, everybody with any personal knowledge of my mother’s early life died too.
Recently, my middle son Nick told me he wants to sit down with me and tape memories of my life and that of my parents. I was initially flattered, but I do admit to wondering if he is concerned that perhaps he better get something down now before I forget it. Or die. Kind of makes sense in a melancholic way.
So I’ve been thinking about my mom’s life before I knew her. The more I thought about it, the idea that my shy, sweet mom would fly off with a wife-beating stunt pilot just didn’t make sense.
So I asked both my brother and sister if they knew about her avian elopement. They were aware of a first marriage, but none of the implausible details. So I called my cousin Donna who has lived all her life in Harrodsburg. Her mother, Mary, was a best friend growing up with my mom. She would surely know the true story.
I called her, and related to her my version of mom’s story. Eventually after she stopped laughing, she told me that mom and one Elward Whiteneck (if only it could have been Redneck) were seniors at Mayo High School and, upon graduation, the lovebirds snuck off to Indiana to get married. Elward was a handsome man. They returned to Harrodsburg where they lived for four or five years until Elwood’s philandering caused mother to divorce him.
There was no fair, no stunt pilot, no flying off into the sunset to get hitched and no physical beatings.
As the Brits say, I was gobstopped. How could this memory be so wrong? A tangled mess of misheard and misremembered conversations filtered through a child’s brain, and, conflated with other stories and novels I had read, must have spun together in my brain’s centrifuge to create this fantastic story of my mother’s sordid past.
I’m still struggling with just how I could be so wrong about a thing so essential. How many of my other memories actually happened, or were they just the debris of broken mental synapses?
Did I hit a home run at the only game my grandfather ever saw me play? Did I shoot that sparrow with my Daisy and then cry? Did my dad shoot two snakes from the boat I was riding in on Turkey Fork on a hot sweltering summer day when I was 10? Did I pee my pants in second grade? Was I wearing a stupid clown costume when a lady told me I was too old to be trick-or-treating?
We remember our lives as stories that we are forever revising but never publishing. There is a central plot, but the details are subject to constant editorial revision. There was a truth, but it can only be recovered by a random song or the taste of a dessert. I now believe that my mom did not fly off into the sunset with a handsome stunt pilot, but rather merely married her high school sweetheart who ran around on her.
It makes me a little bit sad.