The Memory Project isn’t so much about memory as it is about trying to recount memorable events with concrete detail and thereby reclaim the emotion of the event. At least, that’s today’s claim.
So when a vivid memory of mine came up against three family members who had no recollection of it, I refused to back down. They admitted it _could_ be true (well, two out of three did). Besides, the event wouldn’t be memorable to them, so it’s plausible that they forgot it while it burns on in my feverish brain. (“You’re like X,” my father said recently, comparing me to a deceased relative. “You’re a hater.” Well, yes. And I have 10 novels to prove it.)
The story is this. When I was very young, I had a strange idea of luxury. For one thing, I thought $100 was the largest sum on earth; I had calculated my family’s annual income at $29-$39. Secondly, certain foods were rare in our household and I came to crave them intensely. Roasted peanuts, in the shell, fell into that category. We never bought them for the house, just enjoyed them at zoos or circuses, and I never got as many as I wanted. So when I had a tonsillectomy and was told I could have anything I wanted, I asked for a large bag of roasted peanuts. Just.For.Me. That part was key. I was the youngest of two and I had a great mania for things that were mine, not handed down or pre-owned. I had a lot of Second-Hand Rose issues, including the bit about Jake the Plumber, which dogs me to this day.
The peanuts came in a waxy paper bag, the kind that would be used at Woolworth’s or a G.C. Murphy’s, which I still remember as the best-smellng place on earth, with the popcorn and peanuts and chocolate mingling together in this heady mix of sweet and salt and fat. The bag was white, with red, blue and yellow printing on it. There was a clown, standing in profile, holding a bunch of ballons. The peanuts were fresh and almost hot when my father brought them home, but my post-operation throat wouldn’t be ready for them for days. At some point, it became clear that the peanuts might actually spoil before I could eat them.
So my father and older sister, with great ceremony, sat down and ate them in front of me. I wasn’t told that I would get another bag, or that they were doing this to avoid waste. They made great lip-smacking show of it, with my father pronouncing the peanuts the very best he’d ever had. I went nuts. (Ha!) I was only four. I chased my sister, but she ran outside, where I was forbidden to go, being in a recuperative state and all.
(An aside: This is not the famous moment in Lippman family history where I fling myself across the room and bite my sister in the back with such pitbull-like ferocity that I have to be slapped and wrestled to the floor before I let go. I don’t remember that incident at all, but everyone else swears by it. I was only two or three when that happened. So, yeah, always a hater.)
(My sister is now one of my favorite people on the planet. Just so you know. I don’t think we’ve had an argument for almost 30 years. And I definitely haven’t bitten her in all that time.)
No one — not even my mother, utterly blameless in this scenario — will vouch for the peanut story. But my memory of the bag convinces me that it’s so. I’m capable of making up the story; I’m not capable of creating that bag.
Or am I?