When I was very young our family took annual travelling vacations. I remember being carried through the Smithsonian Institution when I was between two and three years old, looking down at big glass cases seeing unfamiliar objects. And when I was between three and four, my parents forgot my Teddy on a trip to Niagara Falls. I was inconsolable. A new, larger-than-Teddy panda came home with us, but he did not console and he never took the place of Teddy.
I think travel in my toddler and pre-school years was too much for my family. For the next several vacations, until I was six or seven, they rented a cottage on Lake Milton where we spent a week or two each summer. To my young heart, those summer vacations were perfect. When we resumed travelling vacations every August, we visited places like Amana Colonies, Iowa; Greenfield Village, Michigan; and Mammoth Caves, Kentucky.
In those days there were no credit cards -- at least not in our family -- and checks weren't widely accepted outside the area where the writer lived. That left my father with the need to carry cash for all expenses: gas, hotel/motel, meals, souvenirs, and any possible emergencies. To know how much to take he probably estimated the amount of each necessity per day and then multiplied it by the number of days we would be gone, then added an extra sum. (My parents were very, very private about money and financial situations so it's always a guess how they managed finances.)
On one vacation I remember the pleasant surprise of having sliced peaches for breakfast at a roadside rest stop. It was a beautiful, fresh, crisp, dewy morning. My mom sliced peaches into a bowl, added a little sugar, and I ate. Delicious!
The memory goes just that far and no further. My dad probably bought a bag or a basket of peaches at a roadside stand earlier that morning. It's possible that my mom, frugal and prepared as she usually was, had packed a few plates or bowls and some forks and spoons. Other options for breakfast may have also included cereal or bread and peanut butter, but I don't know. My memory stops at the bowl of peaches eaten at the picnic table. I have no memory of my age, the year, or where we were.
A few years before my mom passed away we were talking about vacations and I recalled and shared this memory. Her response surprised me. In effect, she said, "Oh, that was an awful time. Your dad felt so horrible. We were running low on money and there wasn't enough to buy breakfast at a restaurant." I felt sad that my father felt horrible about a breakfast picnic of peaches and that my mom remembered it as an awful time.
My mom's response reminded me that each participant has a different perspective -- and memory -- of the same experience, and probably different responses, feelings, and thoughts about the experience. My brother and sister were probably on this vacation, too. They may have no memory of peaches for breakfast, or they may remember even more than I do.
When possible, I think it can be helpful to find someone else who participated in the same event and learn what they remember. It could be especially helpful when talking with parents and grandparents to talk with their siblings also. Who knows what other interesting information might surface and how much fuller the story of the event can be when compiled from several different perspectives.
How about you? Have you ever discussed an event with a sibling or parent who, you found, had a very different perspective and memory of the event?
Photo credit: Courtesy of Sarah R., Creative Commons at Flickr, jazzijava via photopin, license here.
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