The Story About Family Stories

Posted on August 24, 2016



It’s no secret that, if a room full of people witness the same event, there will be as many versions of what occurred as the number of people in the room.  As we go through life, we create our own reality, even though we believe that the reality we create is the only choice possible. Add to that our tendency to embellish the truth or our often flawed memory, and the natural erosion of facts that occur when stories are told through the Whisper-Down-the-Lane generations. The result is a soupy mixture of truth, fantasy, and wistfulness.

Life in the Boomer Lane was reminded of this when she read an August 9 Washington Post article titled “Some Delightful Family Legends Are Best Swallowed With A Grain of Salt.” It sent LBL on a trip down Memory Lane, festooned with the various family stories she had grown up with.

LBL’s favorite was a totally unsubstantiated story about an aunt who was told that her son, a soldier, had been killed in WWII. Each night, she awakened suddenly, with the strong feeling that her son was still alive.  She looked at the clock and it read 3:15 AM.  This went on for quite some time, and family members thought she had lost it. Then, one afternoon at 3:15, she heard a knock on her door. There, she encountered an army official, telling her that her son had been found alive.

Another story involved the younger sister of one of LBL’s grandmothers, who allegedly, at age sixteen, ran off with one of her high school instructors. LBL asked her mother what happened, as a result. Her mother said that the girl’s father (LBL’s mother’s grandfather) promptly dropped dead at the news. LBL asked if he were sick.  The answer was no, he was in perfect health and simply “immediately dropped dead.” Some time later, LBL found out that the man had actually been sick for many months/years following the daughter’s escapade.  She asked her mother if that were the actual cause of his death, whatever lingering illness he had over all that time. Her mother insisted that it was his daughter’s actions that caused the death. It just took awhile.

LBL’s mother also told her that the same great-grandfather who met an untimely end had been the accountant to the mayor of Starokonstatinov, a city in Ukraine, where the family came from. This man was, according to LBL’s mother, a valued and trusted Jew to the Christian mayor. Since LBL comes from a long line of completely anonymous people, she has tried very hard to find any reference to this man. She has failed. All she has is a pair of obviously very old, very ornate scissors, that the mayor was supposed to have given LBL’s great-grandfather for his years of service. The scissors are shaped around a cross, an interesting gift for a Christian to have given a Jew.

LBL, herself, may be guilty of sketchy history. She has vivid memories of the final days that her mother was in the hospital, before her death.  The King of the Gypsies was in the same hospital, dying at the same time. Every day that LBL arrived at the hospital, the entire lobby was filled with innumerable Gypsies, keeping 24 hour-a-day vigil. The memory was so vivid, in fact, that LBL incorporated it into a novel she wrote and titled the book, King of the Gypsies. 

Years later, LBL mentioned this event to a close friend, who was surprised and told her that it was during her own mother’s final time in the hospital that the Gypsy king was dying. Her own memories were every bit as vivid as that of LBL. The issue was never resolved, each of them taking possession of a pretty incredible memory. Either one of them had faulty memory, or the King really got around.

LBL is well aware that, story-wise, her own life experiences are at the mercy of her children and grandchildren. The children all gathered last year to take oral histories of LBL and Then Husband, so she’s not concerned with that part. What does concern her are the infinite anecdotes that she may have told them in various moments throughout the years, that will eventually get spun into something other than complete reality.

She has only one request, that the King of the Gypsies has no part in any of this. Presumably, he did finally go on to the great caravan in the sky, and, unlike Elvis, will not come back.


A note of gratitude to those of you who have purchased Life in the Boomer Lane: Musings of a Former Hula Hoop Champion.  And a request: If you have a moment to write a review, I would really appreciate it.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.