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Sunday, July 8, 2012

The “Hunter” of My Memories

In comparison, the cemetery at St. Oswalds in Sowerby,
just a few minutes' walk from Thirsk, is still open.
So Alf Wight (James Herriot) could have been buried there,
had he so desired.

On the night my father died, I left the hospital and walked the streets.  I watched the cars speed by.  I stared up at the stars glowing in the darkness.  The unthinkable had happened, and I didn’t know how to respond.  Eventually, I decided that the world had not come to an end, and returned to the hospital.

My mother, of course, was frantic by this time, wondering where I had been.  But she settled down, and we seemed to do a lot of standing around, as doctors and staff came and went.  At some point, my father’s body was wheeled from the room, and I watched the staff push it down the hall. 

The pastor had been one of my father’s closest friends, and enjoyed similar TV shows.  He and his wife met us at the hospital, and they took us back to the parsonage, where we spent the night.  Before going to sleep, I remember sitting in the pastor’s study, watching a police drama, about a cop who took no prisoners (figuratively speaking), who would do anything necessary to catch the perpetrators of a crime.  It wasn’t a show I remember watching previously, but its name, “Hunter,” stuck in my mind.

In the last few years, the prices of TV series on DVD have fallen dramatically, and “Hunter” appeared in the stores.  I considered watching it again, because of my memory of that night so long ago.  I purchased the first two seasons when the shop bundled them together and reduced them for clearance.  Then they sat on my shelf for months.

Eventually, I reminded myself why I had purchased them, and watched the two-hour pilot that sold the series.  In a strange way, I found watching it a soothing experience, a link to that night so long ago, when the pastor and wife had shown my mother and I particular kindness.  But at the end of the pilot, I noticed the copyright date.  I shook my head.  No.  That couldn’t be right.

I dived onto Wikipedia, my first port of call in such matters.  Then I sat back, stunned.  The date was correct.  Production of “Hunter” began several years after the death of my father.

In pages 61-63 of his book, The Birth of Christianity, author John Dominic Crossan refers to a study on memory conducted at Emory University.  One hundred-and-six students filled out questionnaires on January 29, 1986, the day after the space shuttle Challenger exploded.  In March of 1989, follow-up interviews were conducted with forty of the original test subjects.  When their later “memories” of how they first learned of the disaster were compared with their original reports, ten differed completely.  Only seven achieved the highest possible score, and even those showed minor discrepancies between recall and their original answers.  When asked, subjects generally expressed great certainty in their recollections.  When shown their earlier reports, they said, “I have no recollection of it,” or “I still think it was the other way round.”  The researchers concluded, “As far as we can tell, the original memories are just gone.”

I’m not sure what to make of this study, or what it says about my recollection of the night my father died.  Like I said in yesterday’s post, "The Proper Role of Fiction," I’m absolutely, one hundred percent certain I was watching “Sanford And Son” when my father died.  Then again, for a long time I believed that I watched “Hunter” later that evening.  These memories, having bonded with the events and emotions of that evening, have burned themselves into my brain, and become a part of me.  But if my recollection of one event is wrong, might both be wrong?  In the case of “Sanford And Son,” might I be blaming myself for an incident that never took place?

This recent discovery suggests that the thoughts, emotions, and memories that drive us are more complex than we often believe.  How can I truly know myself, when I cannot be certain of the memories that shaped my consciousness?  Perhaps I can use this insight to craft more compelling characters in my fiction.  At the very least, I should remember this in my dealings with others. 

Musing on the meaning of my memories,
Dragon Dave

John Dominic Crossan is a former Catholic Monk and Priest.  He was also one of the leading historical Jesus scholars of the twentieth century.  His critical work, The Birth of Christianity, uses historical and scientific methods to understand how the era in which Jesus lived might have actually been, as opposed to how it is often portrayed.  It is a challenging tome, and I don’t necessarily agree with all (or even most) of his conclusions.  Nevertheless (as Mr. Spock might say), the research he utilizes, and the comparisons he draws, are fascinating.

“Hunter” was a police drama starring Fred Dryer, which ran from 1984-1991.  The show spawned two reunion specials, as well as five episodes of an aborted sequel series, the latter of which have apparently never been shown on TV.

Related Internet Link
St. Oswald’s Church in Sowerby, next-door to lovely Thirsk.

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