Here’s something I wrote when I was seven in one of my class exercise books that have miraculously survived the years:
I have been to the seaside, Shanklin, in the Isle of Wight. We stayed there for a week. We saw the only traffic lights on the island. My Mum and Dad took me.
One day at the toy shop, a very funny thing happened. A little monkey came in the door. He jumped on the table and played with the toys. The balloons burst with a bang. He jumped into the air and fell into a box of marbles. The lady came in with the sweeping brush and chased him out the door.
I have no recollection of this event. I didn’t tend to make things up, which inclines me to think I was describing an actual monkey. But shortly before my father died, I asked him if he recalled the incident. He didn’t, and didn’t think it likely.
Oddly enough, if I did make it up, I’m delighted with my childhood self. On the other hand, if it’s at all accurate, I’m equally pleased at how that young fellow observed and captured so much.
I just removed these paragraphs from the draft of my childhood memoir, which I’m in the process of revising and cutting. Like every other passage I’m taking out, I have regrets. In this case, the anecdote isn’t germane to the book’s main storylines. On the other hand, the monkey’s tricks could alleviate the intensity of a chapter describing an unhappy five-month hospitalization during which I was allowed out for this otherwise uneventful family holiday.
After that lady chased out the monkey, where could he have gone? It was a tiny community. Was he someone’s pet? Until preparing this post, it never occurred to me that the rural Isle of Wight, off England’s southern coast, could have had a zoo. However, I just checked, and lo and behold, it did. A zoo, today called the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary, opened just a few years before our holiday. So my story is at least plausible. My monkey could have been a spirited escapee. All over again, more inclined than ever to believe he did exist, I wonder what became of him.
When we contemplate a book-length memoir, we might wonder how the author could recall and write so much. Perhaps the real marvel is that so much is left out.