The other day I was telling a friend all about my 2nd birthday party- the decor, the food, the guests. My friend looked at me a little incredulously and said “you seriously remember all that?” Pause. Hmm. “Well,” I said, “I THINK I do.”
Memories from my 2nd birthday have always been vivid. The theme was Pink, as in the color, and my mom asked guests to wear pink if possible. My dad wore pink socks, there was pink Play-Doh and I am rather confident my mom even found pink toilet paper somehow (10 points for Mom!). These details have floated around in my brain for years now, but as I talked about it with my friend I realized that some of my memories from that day may come from photos rather than first-hand experience. I really do think I remember the play-doh and the bizarre TP, but I’ve also been told stories about the day that have colored my perception of what happened. I struggle as I try to separate the “memories” from “false memories” created by others’ anecdotes and thoughts. When I look back through photos from my younger years, I often feel as if I distinctly remember the exact moment in which the photo was taken. But is it just that I have looked at the photos so many times I know the scene by heart? Or does my brain really contain the recipe to what made those moments so special?
Sashaying a bit to the side, how about memories or experiences that later prove shaky when you try to recreate them? For example, Little Debbie snack cakes. I didn’t get cookies, candy, etc. in my elementary school lunches, so I would occasionally sneak my personal coin stash to school to buy something sweet from the cafeteria (sorry Mom!). I delighted in the company’s Nutty Bars, a concoction of wafer cookies, peanut butter and chocolate. Fast-forward to when I was 17 and happened up on Nutty Bars in a vending machine. My excitement was palpable as I opened up the wrapper to those amazing treats. I took a bite and…
… disappointment! The bars were nothing like I remembered. They weren’t the worst thing I had ever tasted, but they certainly weren’t the amazing blend of flavors I thought I remembered. Food is just one example, but the same can happen for places, people… you name it. Perhaps you had a favorite vacation spot when you were a teen, but now it just feels outdated. Or maybe your best friend from preschool just found you on Facebook, but a phone call revealed you have nothing in common anymore. I’m curious to understand where the line is drawn between the special memories that we preserve and the remembrances that crumble when we encounter them. How strong of a grasp does nostalgia have on your reactions to what is around you? Will your need for validation of treasured moments override reality and keep your beliefs sacred? As you grow older and your tastes, preferences, etc. change, do you stubbornly hold on to certain preferences because you think it keeps you “true to yourself?”
One quick contrasting tale to the Little Debbie story, just for kicks. For years I have had similar memories of delicious cookies that my 5th grade teacher made as part of a lesson on geography. She cut the cookies with U.S. map cookie cutters, then gave us toppings like Red Hots and sprinkles to portray topographical features like mountains and rivers. For some reason I’ve craved those cookies for years, even though I only tried them once. That teacher and I are now Facebook friends so I asked her for the recipe and baked up a batch. I was worried to have a moment similar to my Little Debbie buzz kill but… success! The cookies were JUST as I remembered them! I was very happy to discover that memory, at least, could be justified by deliciousness.