I wrote yesterday in “monsters and fairies” about stories that parents tell to their children about events that happen in the children’s lives before they are really old enough to form personal memories. Those stories can take on a life of their own and become formative parts of the child’s story.
There are other personal stories that parents tell their children, of course, including ones they recall about their own childhoods. And then there’s a step further back along the chain to the stories that our parents were told about their early childhoods by their own parents.
So there’s a whole family mythos created, based on a mixture of true memories, half-remembered truths, and embellishments that made the stories sound better and were therefore incorporated into later versions and handed down as facts.
Today is Easter Monday, which is not my mother’s birthday, although she has always said we should have a celebration as she was born on Easter Monday.
She’s also always maintained that it snowed on the day she was born, a fact that I remembered this morning: after glorious sunshine yesterday, today there was snow. (Admittedly there wasn’t very much and it was the bobbly sort of pellets that are barely distinguishable from hail stones.)
I’d always taken these claims by my mother as gospel, but now realise that they actually belong to the mythos created by her own parents.
One danger of the internet is that so much is digitalised and documented – not just details of the present, but of the past, too – that we run the risk of finding out the truth and realising that the personal origin stories we have been told, and that we continue to tell as fact, are no more than pretty tales that were created by our ancestors for fun or profit.
It was easy enough to check and confirm that, yes, my mother was born on Easter Monday. The weather is a little more difficult to check up on. In London, I’ve found that the day was sunny with an afternoon temperature close to 22°C. But Mum wasn’t born in London, and even there, the first half of the month was cold and showery with night frosts and wintery showers.
I should, of course, have left it at that point and been happy in my ignorance. Instead I continued to rummage around in the archives until I found the Met Office Digital Library and Archive. There, I was able to download a wonderful PDF scan of Daily Weather Reports and find the forecast for the 24 hours starting on Easter Sunday of the year my mother was born. I don’t think “Light westerly winds” and “rather warm” tally with my mother’s story.
So the more I think about it, the more I like the fact that the two stories I mentioned yesterday had no extraneous details: there was no attempt to make the story sound good. The places we were said to have visited as a family exist and are within a stone’s throw of where we lived when I was a child. I know my parents used to take the family on days out together and that we went on boat trips and had picnics. The lack of detail beyond that, makes the two stories entirely plausible.
If the stories included details of dates and weather, the brand of fish paste in the sandwiches or the cost of ferry tickets, it would be possible to start to check up on them. And I’d much prefer my origin myths to remain unsullied by reality.