Do You Remember
Bev and Peg were sisters. They had lived together all their lives, like two little elves, in the little green house they were born in. Their home was a most magical place.
Both of the sisters were tiny– my guess is that they were each under 5 feet tall. Their feet were so tiny that their shoes sometimes got lost among the jumble of kids shoes by their door. They loved children and always welcomed any of the neighborhood kids to come play and have a cookie whenever we wanted. Unlike our parents, they never got upset at the messy results of anything we wanted to play.
They happily let us play with water guns for hours and never complained about how much water we were using from the rusty old tap outside the cellar door, or how often we tracked it inside the pristinely clean living room with our soaking wet shorts and bare feet. “You’re watering the grass– how helpful!” they said. They didn’t mind if we got flour all over the kitchen floor while we were helping them to make cookies: “I needed to sweep this kitchen floor anyway! You’ve reminded me– thank you!” They were sweet ladies, good cooks, and endlessly patient with children’s mistakes. They baked cookies with us and let us paint masterpieces at the old dining room table by the hour. They let us pick flowers from their window boxes to take home to our mothers. They were almost perfect– except for one thing.
The sisters had a unique memory problem.
Bev and Peg had the sweetly innocent problem of almost always remembering things as better and more beautiful than they actually were. I was maybe 10 years old when I started to notice this phenomenon.
“Emilie do you remember that time you came to our house when you were small?” they would muse, almost like proud aunts remembering a fondly loved niece.
“Yes I remember coming to your house,” I would say.
“It was the sweetest thing,” Bev would smile. “You were always so helpful. You helped me weed my garden and then helped me with the dishes too, without being asked. You were always such a sweet little girl. I remember that as if it were yesterday.”
I had zero recollection of ever helping with a garden or dishes– not that I wouldn’t have, but I don’t ever remember the sisters asking for my help. But they would smile serenely and nod at each other anyway, remembering fondly something that had never happened.
“I remember that sweet Nathan,” they said one day of my brother. “He was always such a sweetheart. He would mow our grass and help us weed the garden. He was always such a sweet and caring boy. We had the best garden we’d ever had that year, because he was always there helping us.”
They smiled at each other. “Always such a sweet boy. I remember that.”
To my knowledge, the sisters had never had a garden, at least during our childhoods. But their memories were as fruitful as if they had. My brother also said he had no memory of their asking him for help with the yard or (invisible?) garden. But they remembered it fondly anyway. And it made them smile.
“I remember when you were very small– you were always so sweet and helpful,” they told my sister. “You helped pass out the snacks at Sunday School and you would always give up your own snack if someone didn’t have any. You were always just so kind that way.”
My sister doesn’t remember that. But the sisters do.
They remembered so many beautiful things that had never happened– people who helped them, and kind things that people did for them. The beautiful garden they never had . . . the splendid services they had never received. As a child I didn’t understand how someone could remember in such clear detail something that had never happened. What was wrong with them?
But as an adult I ask, what is wrong with the rest of us? What a precious thing it is to remember things as more special, more sweet, more beautiful than they really are. If that constant smile– that eternal optimism– is an illness, then I hope I catch it. The tiny sisters’ fond remembrances brought them and everyone around them a smile. Their genuine gratitude for everything in life was contagious. They remembered things better than they were, because in their minds, things had always been that good. They were simply remembering things the way their hearts saw them in the first place.
The sisters made a trip to town once a week to get their groceries at the little local grocery store up the road. Everyone knew them and would smile as they passed, their tiny gray heads bobbing merrily, little navy blue kitten heels clicking through the aisles. Only one sister ever learned to drive– the other never drove, but always tagged along anyway just for company whenever they went somewhere. They had each other– and they were just fine.
Everyone in town would wave at them as they drove past, their heads almost too short to see over the steering wheel. Their little green car always meant waves, smiles, and, upon their eventual return, the ingredients to make cookies for us kids. Sometimes they would surprise us and bring back candy or little treats for us from town.
“You kids are just so sweet. Why, I remember the time you helped us . . . always such sweet little things . . .”
I can still remember their tiny little faces, smiling with warmth and sweetness. I remember their tiny hands passing out cookies and playing Go Fish with us through the summer. I remember tiny glasses of lemonade– everything in their house was tiny, because everything about them was so tiny.
Everything, that is, except their hearts.
Is it really so wrong to remember things as sweeter, better, more beautiful than they really were? Is it an illness to think back fondly on times and sparse pasts that perhaps were not always so bright? Is it a crime to smile at your neighbors– choosing to have fuzzy memories about their faults and remembering with clarity only the good things about them?
I don’t think so.
“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure.” –Marquez
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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