“I’m writing a new book.” His voice and face displayed the triumphant expectation of deserved adulation. “It’s about our family.” He waited for my praise.
“What family? Do you mean Grandma and Grandpa and how the whole family emigrated from Sweden and Norway? Or do you mean you, Mom and us kids.” My stomach churned.
“It’s about us!” he said, “Me and your mother and you four kids. I have so many stories to tell.” I looked at mom from the corner of my eye. She had a tightly controlled expression that would conceal her dread from most. I made careful note of it without letting anything show in my own expression.
He continued telling all the great stories as he remembers them. His memory has been kind to him, it seems. And he edits out the ugly stuff. I think he edits those things not only from his manuscript, but from his memory as well. My memory is not so cooperative.
For a long time I did not want him to work on this book, but now I think I do. I don’t want him to publish it, but to give me the rights to the book so that I can edit it and get it ready to print. I don’t think he would be happy with my revisions, however. I see this book as a sort of parallel Bible. His version, then my version, or at least a combined version compiled by all of us kids.
For instance, to hear my dad tell it, my mom decided, at 7 months pregnant with my older brother, to make “one last backpacking trip” on the Pacific Crest Trail while she still could. This shows a remarkable lack of understanding of my mother, who dislikes backpacking, despite the decades of doing it. She would NEVER have suggested such a trip while pregnant or at any other time. It’s rather hilarious that he really has convinced himself that it was her idea. “You know that’s not true?” my mom questioned in a quiet voice. “Of course,” I laughed.
This came about during a visit that had stressed me greatly. My parents were not only distressed that I joined the Orthodox Church, but my dad was openly hostile and combative about it. My mom was less open about her anger, but let it show in quiet barbs, small nasty comments, verbal jabs that a polite woman leaves unchallenged.
I have spent considerable time thinking of potential chapter titles and, sadly, mine are often pointers to traumatic events that I’m sure Dad would leave out. Let’s not go into those. There are others that are amusing, “Mom Buys a Milk Truck”, “Chasing Fire Trucks”, “Vienna Sausages”, “Chores: or, Dog Poop and Vomit”, and “Killing the VW”.
Maybe it’s normal to rewrite history, remembering the stories in which we are heroes and forget the bad stuff. Maybe as I get older I will see myself as sweet and kind.