o read memoirs with any pleasure requires a leap of faith facilitated by considerable intellectual mischief. Memoirs cannot be trusted and their “song of myself” narrator is, by definition, unreliable.
How else can it be when a man in late middle age undertakes to gather together the ill-fitting puzzle pieces of his childhood and early youth?
Those events, examined now, appear as through a prism that refracts the colors of chronology. Sequences are remembered for their fantastical side, and why (asks the memoirist), does no scientist work to distinguish fact from fiction so late in life?
Whether read as individual essays or as a whole, these stories reflect a sincere effort to formulate both the mood and the events of long-gone times. They run from 1957, the year of my arrival to the United States by ocean liner from France (I was four at the time), to 1970, when I was on the cusp of my seventeenth birthday. They tell little of my Polish-born mother and much of my New York-born father, for reasons that will become apparent.
They seem at first to run plausibly from my early days in Washington, D.C. to a two-year interlude in Madrid, Spain. After that, however, they become a kaleidoscope whose turning opens into hopscotch. I’m at once a very little boy at the beach and a far older one trying to understand why anyone would name a woman after a cat, as in Pussy Galore.
I move back and forth, carefree, honoring the distance from time by which I once swore. My birthday parties were few. Why was such counting even necessary?
Can I be certain all I tell you is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (leaving God out of it)? I cannot.
Nor can I assure you that my process of ordering events is flawless. Once upon a time, one lizard resembled another, except, of course, Entonces.
So it is that I jitterbug shamelessly forward, backward, sideways, all of it in the name of storytelling.
What is certain is that I have kept these memories vivid for decades. If A Night to Remember author Walter Lord were still alive, he would tell you of a visit from a Titanic zealot boy and his father in the mid-1960s. If Paco is still alive, let him tell you about the time his father and mine worked on behalf of Francisco Franco, the Modest. If Carol is still out there, by now an elderly woman, I thank her for her tenderness. And if by chance the bench at the end of the boardwalk is the same one I knew from decades ago, I praise it for its wooden endurance.
As a college student at Columbia long after the period these essays revive, I came upon T.S. Eliot’s advice regarding the reading of poetry. Suspend your disbelief, he advised, lest you remain bound by the linear, the known, the expected.
Admit all before you without prejudice. Allow for entrancement, even if it be brief.
So then, before you are the voyages of the child-starship “Christopher,” whose childhood mission was to explore a world, his own, and go where no boy had gone before. A whimsical voyage that continues to this day.