“Old gal, I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”
This was how Granny greeted me years ago when I walked into her house.
Things had been tense between us for a while in the years before her death, so I bristled and threw my shoulders back, ready for a fight.
Keep in mind, she was probably 90 years old at the time and used a walker, but I was still wondering what she was going to possibly hurl my way, quite literally to boot.
She sank down into her recliner and lifted a stack of newspaper articles neatly folded. “You’ve been writing about me,” she began.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Well, it ain’t right!” she declared.
“What’s not right, old woman?” I demanded.
“None of this!” She shoved the papers at me. “You make me look nice — I don’t want to come across as weak! And you don’t quote me exactly correctly.”
No one — and I mean no one — would ever mistake my grandmother for weak; if they did, they were surely about to be on the wrong end of a mistake. I can’t write what she said half the time, because Granny, may she rest in peace, was known to sprinkle some colorful metaphors in her language whenever she was out of earshot of the pastor. And sometimes she gave him an earful if she thought he needed it.
I told her as much.
“I still don’t like it. You need to portray me the way I really am. Not some weak, meek little thing.”
“I don’t think anyone has that impression, Granny.”
Mama has even questioned if she was as nice as I portray her to be.
I assure her, she is.
She then questions if she really did have some of those Crazy Redhead moments, and yet again, I affirm she did.
“Did I really try pulling you out of a moving car?” she asked.
“Do you want me to call Ginny to verify it for you?”
She didn’t respond. Her memory may have been foggy because that was the early 90s and she did decide to go through ‘the change’ my senior year of high school.
Thank goodness she can’t remember some of the other things that happened that year.
“I don’t think I am as nice as you make me sound,” she added.
“You are, Mama. You’re annoyingly nice.”
“I don’t think nice can ever be annoying.”
My child, ever seeking integrity, commented he didn’t quite remember things happening the way I had described them either.
“Cole, it’s something called exercising artistic liberty.”
“Is that a fancy word for lying?” he asked.
Sometimes I regret raising him to be an independent thinker and to question everything.
“No, it’s not,” I said. “It’s a matter of I am able to rearrange certain details to fit a narrative. I’d say 99 percent of the things I write did happen, and they happened the way I wrote them. But I may put a few minor things together to make it flow better. It all happened. It was all true. I just maybe change a few details to protect the guilty.”
He gave me a stare that either meant he didn’t believe me, or he was already thinking of something else far more important than anything his mother was talking about. My money’s on the latter.
Maybe artistic liberty isn’t the right phrase. Maybe it should be some kind of method of life editing, where I take an overall statement and piece together the ones that make the story flow a little bit better.
Some of the moments may have been romanticized; not in an effort to stretch the truth or misrepresent anything, but to show how special those moments and people are. At least to me.
And maybe it’s hard for Mama or Cole to remember some of the exact details because people can be in the same exact situation, yet remember entirely different things, either because of our emotions and reactions or because the event didn’t mean the same to the people involved.
Just like Mama, being full of worry about her only child, when she didn’t know where I was or what time I’d be home, followed by her redheaded fury, didn’t remember trying to pull me out of the passenger side window of my friend’s red Ford Escort. I had just had a great Senior College Visitation day to Mercer University and knew where I wanted to go to school. However, the most memorable part of that day was Mama in all her glory.
I remember it perfectly, namely because it was a shared near-death experience between myself and my friend.
A little bit of editing can help us reframe some of those memories and situations where we understand why they happened the way they did, too.
Growing up, there were times when things may have been a lot harder than I knew, but I was completely oblivious to that fact. As an adult and parent myself, I see that now and know it was my family trying to shield me from worrying.
It was their own way of editing and taking artistic liberty, in a way, but whatever it was, it helps me appreciate how they framed things.
A little romanticizing and happy editing may highlight the funnier moments, the happy occasions, and make some of the heroes in our life stand just a little bit taller. That’s not a bad thing.
May we all be remembered — and edited — a little better than we should be.
Sudie Crouch is an award-winning humor columnist residing in the North Georgia Mountains among the bears, deer, and possibly Sasquatch. You can connect with her on Facebook at Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Humor, and Deep-Fried Wisdom. Her recently published book, ‘Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Wisdom, and Deep-Fried Humor’ is available in paperback and Kindle download on Amazon.