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Lori Borgman: Funny what you sometimes remember

Lori Borgman

I sometimes wonder how accurate childhood memories are. Experts are somewhat divided on the matter; but what aren't experts divided on?

I tested some childhood memories when I came across the old blue diary with a tarnished lock that I kept in fourth grade. My memory was that fourth grade was routine and uneventful. Sure enough, every single entry said, “Went to school. Practiced piano.”

Sometimes I just wrote “ditto” for the day's entry. There was no need to lock the diary.

Last fall I had a chance to return to Lincoln, Nebraska, where I was born, and our family lived until I was almost 9. I have often replayed the 13-block walk to school in my mind. Details seem vivid, but surely they have been embellished by imagination.

Retracing the old route to school, long-forgotten memories crystallized.

“Old Man Scott's house,” I said, as we passed a tumble-down shotgun house. As a girl, I never saw Old Man Scott, but I knew he kept a goat and that grown-ups shook their heads over the state of his place. Old Man Scott may be gone, but from the looks of things, the goat may still be around.

On a corner lot sat Green Chapel where I attended vacation Bible school one summer. One day, the church ladies asked if someone would play the piano while they collected an offering.

I took a seat at the rickety upright and played the only song I knew by heart — “Shortnin' Bread.” “Get out the skillet, get out the lid, Mama's gonna make a little shortnin' bread.”

When I told my mother I had played “Shortnin' Bread” during the offering, she did not seem pleased. I know for certain that I remember that one correctly.

The old neighborhood has not fared particularly well, but the house where we lived looks good. It has been cared for despite the half-dozen cars now parked in the side yard where a sprawling vegetable and flower garden once flourished. I could smell the purple iris and pink peonies in bouquets Mom would send me to school with for my teacher. I could see Dad polishing his car on Saturdays in the gravel drive.

We retraced the route I used to travel to my three great aunts' house with garden produce strapped to the back of my red bike. Straight four blocks, turn right, turn left, another four to go. The final stretch was on the same route the city bus traveled. When that beast roared past belching black exhaust, I always wondered if I would be sucked into the engine. But each time, the lettuce, beans, radishes and I all lived to see another day.

When the whole family went to visit those three aunts, the second or third time my younger brother and I banged the porch swing into the porch rail, Mom would send us uptown to get my brother a haircut. It wasn't until we moved away that his hair never had a chance to grow longer than a quarter-inch. My brother's recollection is that I never went with him to the barber shop, that he always went alone.

Funny what you remember, what you think you remember and how others remember differently.

Memories can be both friend and foe; hard ones spring to mind as easily and unexpectedly as the good ones. The hard ones land with a thud and often attempt to dig in and roost. Good memories whisper softly, linger briefly, then drift away on a gentle breeze.

If your good memories outnumber the not-so-good memories, and if you can summon a good memory to the forefront at will, you have been blessed. Remember that.

Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Send comments to (email protected).

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