With gratitude to my book group, who provided the inspiration for today's post.
This month, my book group read Unbroken, the memoir of Louis Zamperini, Olympian track star who became a POW in WWII after surviving 43 days at sea on an open raft, following the disastrous crash of his bomber. I won't go into too much detail about the book, in case you want to read it, but one of the things we discussed tonight was how -- if at all -- the early stories people choose to tell us about ourselves shape the people we become.
According to the book, Zamperini was quite the uncontainable little hellraiser. When he was two, and stricken with pneumonia, he climbed out his window and ran down the street. When he was not much older than two, he jumped from a moving train that the family had boarded to move to California. At five, he was smoking, picking up discarded butts on the way to kindergarten. He severed his toe as a child, impaled himself on a bamboo beam, and stole anything he could find that was edible. Zamperini manages to pull himself out of juvenile delinquency, but those stories about him establish the character he becomes later on in the book.
As I drove home, I tried to think about the stories that people told me about my own childhood, about the time before I could remember. My mother was always particularly fond of the story about my first time in an airplane, on the way to Spain to visit my relatives: as soon as they secured the cabin doors, I shouted, "OUT! OUT!" (I was 18 months old.) There was my tendency to bite people, mostly out of anger, but also sometimes just because I could ... and one day, apparently, my babysitter bit me back. There was the time, in a streak of indignant self-righteousness, that I told the same babysitter I was going to throw her and her cigarettes in the garbage truck. I was apparently famous for the exuberant phrase "Galicious!" which I used after good meals, and especially my grandma's pumpkin pie. I helped my father with the raking and gardening. And it's true: I am a woman who does not like to be contained, who is perhaps a little too self-righteous sometimes, and who appreciates a good dessert.
Still, I wonder: how much of that character development, as I grew older, was driven by the very stories that it claimed to reflect?
How about you? What are the stories people have chosen to describe your youth, especially before you could do your own transcribing? Do they describe you now? Are you proud of those stories? What influence have they had on you?