Not Every Story is Ours

Post by Amelia Maness-Gilliland for the Kind Kindred series.

Not Every Story is Ours

Memories are multifaceted. Life seems to be a woven tapestry of happy, sad, frightening, and infuriating memories. I have spent much of the past year sifting and sorting through old family photos, which has opened the memory floodgates. I’ve been writing down the stories shared within my family, both good and bad, and reflecting on these stories with the wisdom and life experience of a 43 year old. It’s remarkable what time and maturation can do to a memory. As I dug deeper into these stories, I began to wonder how much of the original story had been edited for the sake of peace and harmony, watered down versions of the truth.

One day I found myself looking at a picture of my paternal grandmother, staring deeply into her eyes. I was transported back in time to her living room. She was always so much fun to be around, silly, lively and always up for a good conversation. I’d sit on the floor in front of her and paint her toenails while she would tell the silliest of tales about her and her kid sister. Her thumb on her right hand was in constant motion, I never knew why, but she had worn a hole in her chair just under that thumb. She was playful. She kept a small pillow tucked by her side; it was her “38 Special”. She would pretend to be occupied, looking at something outside while we ran through the house, trying to provoke her. She’d remain stoic for the longest time, then out of nowhere she’d launch that pillow at one of us and we’d all laugh so hard we’d nearly pee our pants. It never got old. I lost my grandmother when I was only 15. I was with her the night she needed emergency medical care. I’ll never forget wiping her forehead with a cool towel, humming in her ear. She was terrified. She groaned in a high pitch, her eyes were wild, and her thumb rubbed the chair in an almost frenetic pace. She was gripped with fear. Humming was all I could think to do.

My mother and grandmother had an unusually complicated relationship. I didn’t know this from witnessing, but I had been told as much. I heard many stories about my grandmother after her passing, few if any, were positive. At first I didn’t know how to respond to being told that my own grandmother didn’t like me or that my sister was her favorite while I was merely tolerated. My sister and I were close in age so we tended to come as a package deal. I felt so utterly betrayed. Had my grandmother been acting? If so she had masterful talents because she had fooled me. Not once did I recall feeling second best in her presence, but I must have been because it’s what I was being told.

Years passed, I went on to college, got married, started a family and didn’t give much thought to these stories of my grandmother not liking me. Perhaps I was blocking them, or it may have been a natural by product of life being busy.

The issue did not arise again in my life until after the death of my father. I think his living presence consciously or subconsciously served to keep my mothers feelings towards grandmother in check. I suspect out of respect for my father. After his death, that changed. All the issues that existed between these two women were now being safely aired. Stories about grandmother became abundant. It’s a real conundrum to hear startling family stories about beloved family members who have passed away, you cannot hear their side of the story. I heard one side of the story told with such repetition that I began to believe it. On the surface, I accepted these stories as truth; they must have been truth, why would these stories be made up? Deep down though, I was unsettled, and I began to have doubts. As my mother’s postmortem angst towards my paternal grandmother reached crescendo, I had developed serious reservations about the stories I was being told. On a day after an especially difficult conversation with my mother, I found myself once again holding my grandmothers picture, staring into her eyes. My soul whispered the question “how much did you love me?” and I received my answer in a wave of tears as joyful memories of her filled me.

This experience taught me one of life’s most valuable lessons. Every family has stories, and every member of that the family has their version of the story. But not every memory, not every story belongs to me. One of the most genuine forms of self-love I have expressed for myself is to trust my own memories and to write my own stories. This was the moment when I released what wasn’t mine and embraced my own truth.

Amelia Maness-Gilliland is a wife, mother, professor, professional writer, photography enthusiast and lover of all things chocolate. She’s a collector of stories and passionate about the written word. Amelia offers her professional services and publishes her photography and musings at Black House Studio. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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