If Memory Serves Me Correctly
This past week seeing notices on Facebook about the Souderton-Telford Christmas Parade brought back a fond recollection. I was at the parade with my parents and siblings one year, positioned along the route where the present-day Main Street Java stands. Back in that day, the building housed the Souderton Borough offices and police department, and my father was the Borough Manager. As the parade neared an end, the imposing fire truck bearing Santa himself rolled our way, candy raining down from above. Kids scrambled, people shoved and shouted. Amidst the cacophony, Santa Claus peered down at us, and with a wave of his hand shouted out a casual, “Hey Del!” in Dad’s direction. To which my father replied, “Hey Wiz!”
You see, a gentleman named Carl Wismer dressed as Santa for the parade that year, perhaps even for a span of years. Dad knew him through work, but we did not. All we kids knew was that Santa was on first-name basis with our father, and Dad, inexplicably, had called him “Wiz.”
My brother and I love to recall that parade memory. It is one of those stories that has been told and re-told by all of us at one time or another, to the point that the re-tellings themselves become one with the memory. To the point where I question the truth of my memory: Did it really happen that way? Did Mr. Wismer actually call out to Dad, or did Dad address him first? Was that my first inkling that Santa Claus might not exist, or were there doubts in my mind already? Did we question what transpired on the spot, or did we stay in a confused silence? I don’t think it matters; it’s just a good story that makes us smile.
I’ve come to think of these as secondhand memories, although not in a derivative or borrowed sense. I may have been too young or innocent at the time to file it away, but someone captured the moment in story form and presented it as a gift. I am so glad my mom meticulously documented and catalogued my infanthood and pre-school years in a very thick baby book. It is an amazing record packed with photographs, anecdotes, clippings, and milestones. All of that history is now mine because she made the effort.
I want to do the same for my own children. Sometimes we have “Remember when…” conversations at the dinner table or in the car, especially as we reflect on the year we had in Pennsylvania. That time was a rare opportunity for us to live with my side of the family, celebrate a calendar year’s worth of holidays together, and attend elementary school with American peers. In my own ideal world, the boys would carry the memory of that year with them through life. The reality is that it slowly fades, is already fading, and eventually they will hold onto fragments, just as I can recall only a freeze-frame here and there of my kindergarten and first grade years.
This saddens me, and I had to ask myself, “Why?” It is, after all, the natural course of things. No one should live in the past, mucking up the present day. Minori and Rei are not disturbed at the thought of forgetting names or places unless I bring them up, and then I am able to fill in the blanks for them. I examine my motives and have to admit: maybe it is more about me than the kids. After all, my memories are my quickest and cheapest ticket home. That’s nothing to sneeze at when there are 7000+ miles and thousands of dollars separating here from there. I’m an outlier who needs reminding: Where do I come from, and who are my people? So I recollect and re-connect, just like that.
This discovery leads me to the kernel of truth I was originally seeking. When the boys and I are in Pennsylvania among my own, they are seeing Mom in her natural habitat. She speaks the local tongue perfectly and is not the only Caucasian face in town. And for that reason, those surface features do not define her at all. She is one of the crowd — a crowd that does not stop and stare, does not comment on her as an exotic creature. They see the possibility of two different worlds coexisting in one. It is, in fact, their birthright, and I feel the moral injunction to introduce them to it and make it theirs. Some days it weighs more heavily than others, but most times I accept it as a privilege and a joy.
I took my boys to the Souderton-Telford Christmas parade this time last year. We watched in front of Wawa with my sister and her family. The kids didn’t mind the cold at all because they were hanging out with their cousins, and besides, an appearance by Santa was promised. Long before he arrived they already had arms full of treats passed out along the route. Sharon and I laughed our loud laugh, people-watched, and made all kinds of comments for our ears only. True to tradition, Santa rode by on a fire truck, lights and sirens going wild. Minori and Rei got a kick out of it and were thrilled with their loot. For me, it was one of many “full circle” moments I never imagined I’d have. Now it is another gift in memory form, a double happiness.