Memories, those tiny electro-chemical patterns in the human brain that determine so many, many details of our existence. No one really understands the human ability to remember things decades after they happened. Here's a personal case in point: a couple of months ago, my Dad related a little story about his early years as a machinist - making airplane parts and so forth. He'd graduated from the General Motors Tech School years before I was born. He'd spent a couple of years working to make car parts for assembly lines in Detroit. Eventually, he's gotten a job with Union Carbide in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. We moved away from Detroit when I was three and my sister was less than a year old. For a short while, we lived with my paternal grandmother in Jacksboro, Tennessee.
Later we moved to a tiny brick house outside of Clinton. Quite often, we went shopping in Knoxville. Eventually, Dad got a job in the University of Georgia machine shop in Athens, Georgia. I remember it well. Every year of it. But then Dad bought some farmland in Danielsville, outside of Athens. He changed jobs to work at another machine shop in Athens, one whose owner would give him time off to tend to the farm. That was decades ago. Mom and Dad still own the farm outside of Danielsville, but Dad retired a few years ago. At the time of which I relate, Dad was hating retirement and had only recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. My wife Lyn and I were making a visit to Mom and Dad's home, just 4 miles from our own little brick house.
Memories... Ephemeral little things stored in the human brain. But every memory is a part of who we each come to be. Dad is no exception.
We were out in the yard at Mom and Dad's house, planning a little yard work on a warm winter day. He looked up and pointed out the dimly visible crescent moon in the afternoon daylight sky. It was a wonderful day. Dad was having one of his good days. All the lights were on and he was home! My Dad was there and not out in wonderland, somewhere. I treasure those days. I truly do. Anyway. he looked up in the sky for a moment, then raised his right hand to point at the moon. What he said then was
something I don't remember ever hearing before in my life. It would have thrilled me at the time of which he was speaking. Maybe he was following some security procedure all these years, and just forgot about it recently. I don't know. But his words sent that day a thrill of excitement through me.
"You remember those little go-karts the astronauts took with them," he said, out of the blue, as it were. It took me a moment to change mental gears from yard work toremembrances.... "Up there?" Dad continued. "To ride around on when they explored?"
"The Lunar Rovers," I replied. "Yeah Dad, we watched every space mission on TV as far back as I can remember. What about the Rovers?"
"I made a couple of parts for those things," he said. Long pauses occurred between the phrases of his words. Due in no small part to his having to grope for the verbal fluidity of which he was once an enchanting master. "My fingerprints are up there. On
two of those buggies. I remember... Just some little parts I made. Didn't even know what they were, back then. Part of those buggies, that was all I was told. I knew that they were for NASA when I made them. Something for the Apollo program, something special that the astronauts needed. Some of my best work... Took me days to make the parts... But I held something in my hand that went to the moon! Imade something that went all the way to the moon. And it's still there..."
Makes me proud. Remember, it wasn't just the science folks who got us there. Thousands and thousands of people working together on little jobs, in shops and factories scattered all over the country did their part. Teamwork got us there. It'll take teamwork to get us back there.
"One giant leap, for all mankind-" I was 12 when I heard those words come out of the TV speaker as I watched Neil Armstrong slowly climb down the ladder. He and Buzz Aldrin kangaroo-hoped all over the place, never venturing far from their little tinfoil and plastic lander. I remember watching every Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and shuttle launch. I even got to see a launch happen live, from Daytona beach once, while I was on vacation in the 1990s. I'll be 54 this year. Dad is in his mid 70s. It's time we went back to the moon. Humanity once laid claim to the moon as a collective batch of individuals, rather than as a single monolithic nation or political party. The standard has been set years ago. It is up to we future generations to meet, and then surpass, the heroic efforts of those standards. The challenge is ours to meet. In my humble opinion, we as a species are more than up to it.
Back to memories...
We, as human beings, are slaves to our minds, our memories, as fallible as those are. Little, tiny electro-chemical reactions in our fallible human brains. Ephemeral little things, as easily damaged as the petals of a flower. But each one defines who and what we are, how we behave, what we believe, and how we act. We really shouldn't trust them any more than we do a cassette tape recorded forty years ago to hold those recordings as changeless as we'd prefer them to be. As we'd prefer them to remain, forever. But we do. We have grown to expect our memories to remain untouched by the hands of time. You and I know better, but yet we want to believe in the infallibility of memory so strongly that we often tend to disregard the infirmities of old age and disease as if they
were meaningless. Memories can change, can be corrupted, and they can be manufactured out of whole cloth. Yet we poor puny humans still choose to trust them. How can we, as writers, make use of this phenomena?
Well, it's like this... Imagine that my Dad was a character in one of your stories. Now, you could present his memories as absolute fact. Or, if you dared, you could present him and his stated memories as some sort of idealized fantasy set forth by an infirm mind trying desperately to hold onto whatever passes for reality that suits the purpose of your story. Characters don't often tell the objective truth. They usually relate whatever truth there is within the filters of their own personality. Unless they are the narrator character, you can have them say anything. This gives the writer all kinds of room for social commentary, personal opinion, colorful metaphor, and so forth. Your characters are more than actors in your readers' minds. No, they are far more than that. One can use characters to illustrate some important point in your, the writer's, mind. Not all characters have to tell the historical truth, They can tell a truth that fits within their experience. One that also can be used to illustrate sole point the writer wants his or her readers to comprehend. But truth? That is different for each of us, readers and writers and those others who don't write or read our stories.
The human mind is not a reliable recording device. You can use that fact to tell a story better than you could if we were such a recording machine. Make your characters people, even if they aren't human people. Remember that the majority of your readers are!
Now, time for me to stop teaching and let you get on with the important job of reading that you keep coming back here to do.
Dan L. Hollifield - human, whether I like it or not...