Childhood memories change with time

By Clyde Davis: Local Columnist

The day after Thanksgiving, in my memory at least, there was inevitably an inch dusting of snow.

The snow had all fallen overnight and was finished by 6 a.m., when we arose early for the first day of deer season. The rifles had all been cleaned and oiled, and the fluorescent orange caps and vests were waiting neatly on hangers.

In reality it was probably raining several of those years as I was growing up. In other years, the temperature was perhaps in the 50s. Either of these would preclude the perfect tracking snow that falls yearly in my imagination.

Doubtless, there were years when my awkward teenage hands spilled the gun oil while cleaning the rifles; I don’t remember that part. Nor do I remember the years when we had to dig around for the fluorescent hunting outerwear. That is not a part of the memories. Nor are the years when, for whatever reasons, we didn’t get to go deer hunting at all. In the memories, all must be perfect.

Pam Houston, my current favorite novelist, ends a short story, “Cowboys Are My Weakness,” with a vignette about a story that she (the character, not the author) has told about herself so many times she can’t remember how much, if any, of the story is true. In a similar manner, I think we tend to edit our holiday memories. It’s probably a good thing.

I can guarantee you that holiday editing saves us a lot of embarrassment and worse than that, perhaps pain, I remember an absolutely wretched Thanksgiving we spent with my aunt’s dad in Latrobe, Pa. Her older brothers and sisters were not nice to her, which I didn’t like too much because I am, and always was, fond of my aunt. My uncle had promised me that we would be having opening day of buck season in the Allegheny Mountains near Latrobe, but it thundered and spit lightning for two days, which put the wraps on the deer hunting. So I sat, bored and 15, wishing I was anywhere else.

For those of us who value Thanksgiving, this weekend begins the countdown to Christmas — I hate to start it sooner. I wonder if the current tendency to move the holiday forward— say, into July, it seems — is somehow an attempt to play on, or utilize, our tendency to edit and reconstruct memories.

Perhaps, like Houston’s character, there is an increased chance to tell the story so many times we can no longer figure out what’s true. Then again, I am one of those curmudgeons who believe that every holiday should be celebrated for its own value, not jumbled into a fruitcake of symbols that lack any impact.