Stretching the Story to Tell the Truth — and Vice Versa

History is elastic.

Ilan Stavans said this in describing his graphic novel, A Contrarian History of the United States (illustrated by Lalo Alcaraz).

The book tells our country’s history from a different point of view than most history books— that of the unsung but exceptional workers, immigrants, housewives and slaves who built this country from the ground up.

Same time frame, same country — different history.
Which is true? Both — because history is indeed elastic.

Based on my personal experiences, I would add: Memory is elastic, too.

The specific instance that most clearly illustrated this for me involved my brother, Scott, my Mom, and me talking about a single specific incident from when Scott & I were kids. We all remembered the central conversation the same — but with it happening in different locations we each were insistent upon. I clearly remember the conversation happening out in front of the house by the street. Scott remembered it happening in our parent’s bedroom. Mom remembered it in the living room.

Which version was the “truth?” All of them, of course.
Maybe it’s truth that’s elastic.

I think of a brief bit of dialogue from a favorite TV series, “Hell on Wheels.” A newspaperwoman says, “I just want to know the truth.”
“Whose truth?” our hero asks.
“THE truth.”
“Ain’t no such thing.”

It may seem kinda funny to quote a piece of fiction about the truth, but I often think of fiction as “lying to tell the truth.” Even when a storyteller chooses people or events from history, they often find it expedient to change a few things up. I wrote about some of the tangential approach to the truth recently regarding the new Chicago 7 movie, where even one of the defendants, unhappy with the portrayal of several real people including himself, nonetheless deemed it a good story that needs to be told.

My Granddad’s memoirs sometimes contain variant versions of the same stories. In at least one instance, an important detail is reversed in the two versions (who kissed whom?), leaving the reader with a bit of mystery to ponder. Granddad also acknowledged he left out some things he recalled — because they might reflect poorly on him. Our memory also grants us this grace.

My last conversation with my best friend, Mike, just weeks before his unexpected death this summer, was spent sharing memories with him — some of which I am pretty sure did not actually occur the way he remembered them. Pretty sure I wasn’t even there for some of the adventures he remembered us sharing. Or maybe I was and it’s my memory that is faulty here. Maybe the truth is somewhere in between. Probably, we’re both right. I know we were both telling the truth as we knew it.

All of this pondering about truth and storytelling and different points of view are my roundabout way of prefacing a story by my late former sister-in-law Joanie Whitebird, about me and Sara first meeting and falling in love, a story I’ve told here at some length before.

In re-reading Joanie’s story recently before sharing it publicly, I spotted several minor errors as well as the effect of Joanie’s framing perspective on what she witnessed. Hers was a mildly distorted viewpoint but not entirely off-base.

Come back tomorrow to read her version of the start to our whirlwind coast-to-coast-to-coast romance, 31 years ago this Thanksgiving.

About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
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