Memories in Memoirs: Believe Them or Not?
Think back to when you were four years old and what do you remember? Can you recall large swaths of time, conversations, clothing, daily events, and all the other minutiae, or are your memories more like mine–snapshots of events, some colored by recollections of other family members?
I turned four in 1978 and have a handful of memories that aren’t so much mini-movies with dialog and action as a collection of Polaroid pictures in my mind:
- Sitting on the sofa listening to Stevie Wonder records with my Aunt Nina while the rest of the family was off in other areas of the house celebrating a holiday of some sort
- Getting my hand stuck in an 8-track player–the player was built into the wet bar in our basement’s rec room
- Touring a home that my parents would soon buy–I specifically remember a fish tank in the bedroom that would later become mine
- Getting to select a prize from a treasure box at my dentist’s office after a cavity-free visit–I selected a giant plastic skeleton key and promptly broke it when I got home and tried to use it in our side door
- Helping my Nanny plant a peanut tree in my backyard and coping with the epic disappointment when peanuts didn’t materialize on the tree overnight (or any time in the next few days)
The reason for my question and subsequent trip down memory lane is to determine if I’m alone with my literary skepticism. I’m having trouble with a new audio book–a memoir–because the author spent the first two discs detailing her days as a four-year-old child. Understand that the author wasn’t just sketching out some broad memories; rather, she tells lengthy stories of daily events, getting down every detail with such exactness that I found myself questioning her credibility as a narrator.
In the acknowledgments, the author states that the memoir is true but some names have been changed to protect that guilty and innocent. After the James Frey debacle a few years ago, more authors are adding notes like these to memoirs, but I don’t think anyone (aside from a person gifted with a savant-like memory) could recall any event from a distance of 40+ years with such clarity.
I’m curious: Do other memoir fans feel that before a certain age, no author could possibly remember events with such detail? Am I just being too literal here–should I assume the author has taken a bit of creative license with her memories? And, if you’re so inclined, what is one of your earliest memories?