My family moved to West Virginia about the time I turned three. I clearly remember arriving by train at the foot of Tyrone Road near Cheat Lake. A couple met us and took us to their house. Years later, in search of the site, I found no trace of a railroad track near the foot of Tyrone Road. There was not even a level stretch where a track might once have been.
Fast forward to eighth grade at Suncrest-Flatts Junior High. After a statewide West Virginia history test, top scorers in each county visited the state capital to be dubbed Knights and Ladies of the Golden Horseshoe. I have photographic memories of gathering on the Capitol steps and going inside for the induction ceremony. Recently I found an online list of the winners by year, including several classmates. I was not among them.
A park I explored after moving to Wisconsin was low and flat, or that’s how I recall it. More recently I went back and was startled to find the terrain high and rugged. These surprises aren’t about how time moves on, like a strip mall in a former farm field, or a statistic that gets updated every year. Nor are they age-associated memory loss; I’ve cherished these reminiscences for decades.
My memory plainly can’t be trusted. Moreover, how vividly I remember doesn’t tell whether I remember correctly. When two witnesses give conflicting accounts of an event long past, maybe neither is lying. The more detailed memory may not be the more accurate. No matter how confident, in the absence of further evidence, either or both of them may simply remember it wrong.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.