Memory Can’t Be Trusted

A few days ago I was taking a meal out with my best girl when the unmistakeable odor of smoke wafted from the kitchen. We made some joke about food burning, and it reminded me of a story from my youth. My parents didn’t have a huge record collection when we were kids, just one metal rack with maybe twenty or thirty records in it. There was a song I recall as being on a Percy Sledge record called “Something’s Burning,” that me and my two sisters used to sing while my mom was cooking dinner. The refrain was “Something’s burning, something’s burning, something’s burning . . . and I think it’s love….” only we would close it out as, “And I think it’s the foooooood….”

Here’s where the whims of memory tripped me up. Yes, my folks had a couple Percy Sledge records. There was some Gary Puckett and the Union Gap as well. Glen Campbell. I think they even had that Herb Alpert record with the famous cover. I don’t recall any Kenny Rogers, but when I went digging online for the song, this is what I found:

The more I listen to it, the more convinced I am that this is the very song. And the more I dig, the less convinced I am that my folks even owned any Percy Sledge records. If not, where the hell does that “memory” come from?

This is one of those things that makes me take a lot of memoir writing with a grain of salt. I consider myself to have a pretty good memory, yet here is proof that the brain makes stuff up, or confuses things, or whatever. How much of our adult identities are built on falsehoods that our minds have manipulated, or even conjured entirely, for us? I think it’s fascinating. So when some person puts out some book writing about events that happened ten, twenty, thirty or more years earlier (like, *cough* the bible *cough*), one must take it with a grain of salt. If it starts to smell like smoke, it’s likely that things aren’t all squared away in the kitchen. Hell, it may not even be intentional.

Finally, I don’t know how people even managed to cook in the days before smoke alarms. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the more I learn of history, the more I realize it’s a miracle anyone ever survived anything.


Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives in Missoula, MT.

4 thoughts on “Memory Can’t Be Trusted”

  1. Smoke alarms–they tend to tell you more about your cooking skills than your need of a fire truck. That’s pretty funny about singing “Something Burning”

    My aunt told me about them learning that Pearl Harbor was bombed while going to church and walking by a house with a radio (they lived in the country and the area didn’t have electricity until after WW2). I always dismissed it, because they lived on the east coast and it would have been in the afternoon, but a few weeks ago when talking with her, I asked about evening services and then she said that they alternated as the preacher was there one week in the morning and the other in the evening… So maybe it was while they went to church.

  2. Potentially false memories, I got so many of them! My mother is a great one for stories, not so much for facts. And due to some extenuating circumstances I won’t mention here I have a lot of memory loss before the age of 9. I rely on others memories, and really our memories are constructed fictions for the most part.

    I have a strange affinity for anise flavored candy. My mother explained it was because in a little town we lived in when i was small there were a lot of people descended from Italian immigrants and at every school bake sale there would be homemade anise hard candy. I was explaining to a friend why I liked this obscure candy and I balked wondering if I only like this candy because my mother suggested I liked it. Total mind fuck. So in the facebook 2 degrees of separation I found a friend older than me who attended to same tiny school and asked if I was crazy or if anise candy was a real thing.

    Its a real thing, my mother is not a complete liar. I really do like anise candy. Me and about three other old ladies in the whole world.

    1. That’s a great story, Molly. Doesn’t anise basically just taste like black licorice? I hate black licorice. If we are ever stranded in a bunker together in an apocalyptic scenario (and I could do far worse for company, I might add), whatever stores of anise candy there are will be aaaaaall yours.

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