I just got off the phone with Granny, my Mom's mom. She turned 102 yesterday and lives in a retirement home in Santa Barbara. It's foggy there and it's always the same temperature. I think of Granny living everyday in a diaphanous sort of mist.
Granny does alright for an impossibly old person, although she does forget things. For instance, my mom was just there visiting, but she left this morning. When I was talking to her today, Granny kept forgetting whether or not Mom was in the other room, or on the other side of the country. "Annie's around here somewhere," she kept saying. Then: "No, silly me. She's gone already. It's so hard to keep track of everybody."
It's true! It is hard to keep track of everybody! And not just for Granny, who's a tiny bit senile. Human memories are terrible, and I bet they're terrible for a reason, because who wants to remember everything that ever happened to you? Not me. Anyway, our memories are what we have to work with, so we work with them.
I especially like the memories I have from when I was a little kid. They don't make good sense, but they're really vivid--it seems like they might be similar to what Granny feels when she starts packing up to go visit her fiends who lived in Vermont in 1942 and who have been dead for like 30 years. She's pretty sure she's supposed to go there right now; it feels right and real. It's hard not to believe the story your mind tells you.
Like I have this memory of falling off a boat into the Atlantic Ocean. I was probably 4. My whole family was there--all my aunts and uncles and cousins, looking down at me in the water from the deck, their faces blacked out by the sky. I remember the gray, foam-tipped waves, no land in sight, the hull of the boat as tall as a cruise liner, my cousin Jason hollering that a shark was on its way. And then, I turned around and there was a shark fin, drifting toward me, pointy against the white horizon. And, just like that, I was snatched out of the water by the hood of my coat. The next thing, my uncle Bob was yelling at me. And then I was sitting in the cabin of a boring boat for the rest of a boring day.
I always thought that was a weird memory to have, because why would anybody put a houseboat on the Atlantic Ocean? And why was my whole family there? And why was I wearing a coat on a boat? And did I really see a shark fin tacking toward me? I've never really known whether that, or something kind of similar to that, actually happened. Or if it was just a story I told myself.
The other day, my aunt Sally asked me if I remember the time I fell off Bob's houseboat into Lake Lanier. She sent me a picture of the place where it happened:
According to Sally, it was November and my dad's side of the family was taking a little spin on Bob's new boat. Apparently I hadn't been wearing a life jacket. We were just milling around on the deck and I just walked off the side of it, into about 100 feet of water. Bob grabbed me as I was sinking in my boots and pants and winter coat. Sally didn't say anything about Jason yelling to me that the shark was coming. Actually, she didn't mention anything about the shark.
So, I'm sure Sally has a finer grasp of the context of the situation than I do. But I remember what it felt like to be a 4 years old in Lake Lanier in November. It felt like the Atlantic Ocean. It's a big story in my brain.