Authors of historical novels may be tempted to rely on stories from friends and relatives to add truth to their words. After all, they were there, so they should remember, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
I know how unreliable memory can be, and the truth came to light when I tried to retell a story about my husband’s and my courtship that our daughters hadn’t heard. I was delighted by the opportunity since a neglected anecdote is rare.
I shared that when we were engaged, we went to an upscale restaurant serving Scottish food. Watching pennies, I read the menu and decided all the items were too expensive. But I was stuck since my fiancé had taken me there of his own volition in honor of his Scottish heritage.
“I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu. Haggis,” I told the girls. “It was awful. I felt queasy afterward.” (Sorry, pricey Scottish restaurant.)
“Haggis! No wonder you felt sick,” they opined.
(Let me insert an apology here to everyone who adores haggis. And by the way? I’m proud of my husband’s Scottish heritage!)
“Okay,” my husband interjected, “Let me tell you the real story.”
I stopped short. What? I wasn’t telling the real story?
He gave me a quick look and said, “She was going to order haggis, but I stopped her. She ordered something else instead.”
Instantly, I remembered. His version was correct. However, neither of us could say what I ate. I recalled that his suggested dish cost more than the cheapest offering on the menu, which was haggis. I also remember that he ordered a premium meal and loved whatever it was. I wish I’d chosen that. Admittedly, knowing what to order is vital to enjoyment when visiting any restaurant.
Facts: I named the correct restaurant. I reminisced about what I thought were high prices. I remembered that my fiancé loved what he ate. I correctly reported that I ordered one of the cheaper dishes. I shared how I felt queasy afterward.
But the dish was not haggis.
So, while I remembered most of the facts, I didn’t recall all of them, particularly a critical point, precisely. I surmise that I’m not the only person whose memory may have grown hazy over time.
Your takeaway as a writer? Ask people about their memories and enjoy their stories. But before committing anyone’s personal memories to books as truth, check several outside sources for accuracy.