Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Memories and Alternative Memories

There are memories and there are alternative memories—fiction. Since we live in an age of alternative facts, I consider alternative memories a natural offshoot. Not too long ago, I attended a gathering and chatted with a ghost from my past. He was an affable enough fellow, but he loved nothing more than to hold court and be the center of attention—the type of guy who is hard to stomach for any extended period of time. What annoyed me most of all was not so much that he was a blowhard, but that his recollections of the past frequently veered into fantasy.

I appreciate the fact that memory is a tricky thing—not an exact science. My recollections of the past don’t always jibe with others’. But there are certain memories—historical claims—that the aforementioned ghost from my past spewed that were patently false. They were downright slanderous to a couple of people from the old neighborhood who are long dead and buried. Unfortunately, in a small room sans an escape hatch other than a visit to the bathroom, listening to alternative memories was the price the rest of us on hand had to pay.

And now for something completely different: a memory rooted in reality plus a little science. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction: Saw that my maternal grandparents’ old home on Miller Street in Bangor, Pennsylvania was for sale, which resurrected a traumatic experience. Arriving from the Bronx for a visit some forty-five years ago, I was carrying my Matchbox case full of cars to the house. In what was most unfortunate timing, the case snapped open in the street—directly above a sewer grating—and several cars from my impressive collection rolled out of the case into it. Visible to the eye, they remained for the entire world to see until the next heavy rain.

This painful memory, nevertheless, prompted me to search the Internet for vintage Matchbox cars and purchase a few, including a few of my all-time favorites: the Greyhound bus, station wagon ambulance, and Studebaker wagon. Back then, those of us with matchbox cars played with them until they were scratched and tattered. These die-cast gems were originally manufactured by an English toymaker—Lesney—with great attention to detail. The Studebaker wagon, for instance, had a retractable roof in its back. In a play moment with my younger brother—in the great outdoors of Bangor—it’s the car we deemed to belong to “Yia Yia.” Yia Yia, by the way, was our next-door neighbor in the Bronx—an elderly Greek woman and grandmother—who didn’t drive in real life. And that’s not an alternative memory. But as to who were the “owners” of my other matchbox vehicles in that playtime a long time ago, I don’t remember and won’t create an alternate reality. I’ll leave that kind of thing to that ghost from my past and his epigones in the alternative memory fraternity. 

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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