Over the recent holiday weekend, I went back to Connecticut to see my parents. The occasion was to hang out with my dad as he convalesced from knee replacement surgery (and to provide a distraction for my mother, who is not used to nursing duties). But I also hoped to find some things in boxes in the basement: a poem I wrote about my 8th grade science teacher, an interview with a Holocaust survivor. I write about these documents in essays that will most likely be in my thesis, and so I hoped to locate them: you can try to remember your bad poetry, but nothing beats the real thing.
I didn’t find either document, but I did find some other things: my kindergarten report card, a 1995 Year in Cartoons magazine (the Internet changes everything!), and this photo, in a square card, the kind kids get when they have their photo taken with Santa at the mall.
“Is that a lion?!” my mother asked when I showed it to her. (Michelle, Rachel and I conducted some highly scientific research – we typed “baby lions” into Google and compared those images with “baby tigers” – and so I can say yes, yes it is). “Where were you?” she asked.
None of us could figure it out – other than the official-looking paw print, there was no writing on the card or the back of the Polaroid. It looks like someone’s backyard, but fancy zoo-themed birthday parties seem like something my parents would remember. Was the picture even taken in North Dakota (where we were living at the time)? No clue.
So we just laughed, and I packed it into my suitcase to take back to Bellingham. But I haven’t put the questions out of my head. I’ve been thinking about memory, about the stories we construct, and how even when there’s no clear story to tell, that can become a story. I love to think about the possibilities with this photo: that wild cats were unremarkable or I was that unsupervised or my parents assumed they’d remember beyond the need for captions. I could make something up, but I like the honest unknowing better.