So it turns out that Camille was a redhead.
Someone who happened across my Friday posting through the miracle of Google knew a little more than I did. I got Vanya right, the Russian wolfhound. And I got other details right, too. But I got the hair color wrong: Camille was not blond. She had "flaming red hair," this person told me.
How could I not remember that? How did I get that wrong? Other than the fact that I was going on 40-year-old memories?
It's memory, the nature of memory, which can alter facts without your realizing it and then stick them tight in your brain, sideways.
In my memory, Camille was mysterious, wispy, quiet, ethereal. I guess my mind translated that to pale, blond--like the wolfhound. Flaming red brings an entirely different personality type to mind.
This got me thinking about the nature of memory, and how reliable--or not--that it is.
When I write these posts about my past, I always do some research. For the Russia stories, it was easy; I had photos; I had notes; I had written about these experiences before. The same is true with the Cuba stories. I also ran some details past Joey M., who had been with me in Cuba and on the first trip to Russia.
For the Writers in the North post, I went down the basement and dug around in boxes until I found the old issue of "South Dakota Review" and re-read my father's piece on the seminar. (And, I want you to know, I remembered correctly that it had a pea-green cover.)
I googled Snodgrass and Bly to double-check their achievements. I emailed three older siblings, looking for their memories of the same incident. (They had none, until they read my blog post.)
Double-checking Camille's hair color was not something I could do. I don't even know her last name.
The rest was left to my memory. This, in my mind, is the nature of honest memoir: It comes from your own experiences, your own memories, but then you have a responsibility to meld your remembrances with verifiable fact.
If there is a conflict between the two, fact wins.
I would never make something up for a post. I would never knowingly change the details. I don't exaggerate for humor, or for drama. I tell you what I remember, as I remember it. I tell you what I know is true, and what I am not sure of.
I am not looking for the most outrageous story I can tell; I am looking to explore my memories and bring them into the present. Deliberately changing them would destroy any meaning they might have.
But what do we remember? And how much can we trust our memories?
My brother David emailed me last night and told me that he remembered very well pushing me down on 21st Avenue East, and me standing there with bloody knees. But in his mind, we were with two other kids entirely--our cousins, Patti and Timmi, not the Bly kids.
When I was quite small--six, seven, thereabouts--one of the five daughters in our house fell out of the dining room window. She landed on a pile of rocks and hit her head. She got up, dizzy, hurting, a bit dazed, and lurched back into the house.
For years, I thought that daughter was me. I could feel the fall, I could feel the wooziness after hitting the rocks. I remember it the way you remember dreams; in fragments, but vivid fragments.
But it was not me who fell. It was my little sister, Heidi.
That still astounds me. I have memories of falling, of hitting my head, of staggering back into the house. A small stubborn piece of my brain still thinks it was me. This is something that my siblings have come to tease me about: Laurie Jo thinks everything happened to her.
Where do these memories come from? From empathy? From hearing a story so many times that I internalized it?
Camille was a redhead. When I read that in the surprising email I got on Friday afternoon, it sounded right. The more I thought about it, the more right it sounded.
So why is the picture of Camille unchanged in my mind? Why is she still, in my mind, a slender young woman in white tennis shoes, standing at the front of the boat headed across Lake Superior, blond hair blowing in the wind?
Dodge Nature Center
14 hours ago