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When I was a child I was aware of different kinds of stories. There were stories that ended ‘happily ever after’ and the stories told by the Brothers Grimm where characters didn’t always land on their feet. Then, there were the stories my mother told. They told the story of her life.
My mother was raised in an orphanage. She told me she was put in a line with other children to have her tonsils removed without anesthesia. She told the story of being rescued at the age of seven to live with George and Marie. George was kind in the stories, but ineffectual against the indignities Marie imparted. Marie didn’t like my mother’s nose and she spend hours rubbing it between her thumb and forefinger to change its shape. Their home was a boarding house and my mother the household help. Her life included labor too hard for a child which she blamed for the arthritis she suffered as an adult.
My mother never lived ‘happily ever after.’ Yes, she married, had a child and escaped the harsh treatment that shadowed her growing years. But, the stories haunted her. There are other stories she told that contradicted each other or were illogical. She became the heroine of her own life and styled herself gifted with a sixth sense at times.
I learned a lot from my mother’s stories. I learned that there are worse things than having a mother whose tales were sad and confusing. Somehow the stories gave her strength to protect me a new generation of abuse. My mother would have given me a life of ‘happy ever afters’ if she could.
I learned to treat the stories I tell about my own life with a healthy dose of skepticism. Shaping the past to suit our own needs, to bring comfort in times of stress, to enlarge ourselves in our own eyes, is simply human and a gift I share.
I learned that the past changes with the stories we tell. I know that each time I recount my mother’s stories I change history with my words, and the facts will ever elude me. Even this time.