Memory is selective. Ask any two people to describe an event they’ve seen and you’ll get two different accounts. Juries are sometimes confused by eyewitness testimony for that reason. Verdicts have been overturned when well-meaning witnesses were found to have sworn inaccurately to an occurrence.

My sisters and I, for example, all tell different stories about our childhood, but a conflict may arise when we try to agree on just one. For a particular Christmas, did Mom make us matching pink dresses or red ones? That’s inconsequential, of course, but some recollections carry more weight.

The four of us sisters are working on a family history to preserve memories of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. We meet for lunch, exercise our powers of recall, and record our responses. We laugh more than we talk or eat, so these sessions could go on for years. Here’s a sample:

"Remember," I asked my sister, "when we arrived at Grandma’s barn in time to see

the calf born?"

"No," she said. "That wasn’t me."

"Sure it was. You remember the mother licking the baby and eating the placenta?"

"Stop! I’d remember a yucky thing like that. Really, I wasn’t there."

My mind argued, (BEG ITAL)Yes, you were.(END ITAL)

Now, I’m not certain. Was my sister so grossed out that she blocked the image? Or had I manufactured the memory of her standing beside me watching the birth?

Again, the calf memory isn’t important. However, the time to ask vital questions is when folks are still alive to answer. Pointed questions should be put to your elders, and the answers recorded. I often kick myself for giving my great-grandmother a tape recorder and asking her to talk about her childhood. "Oh, there’s not much to tell," she’d reply. "I couldn’t talk into that thing," she also said.

Even though we chatted while snapping beans and husking corn, I don’t remember many of her specifics. The lesson I’ve learned is that my memories and events of my life will be lost if I don’t deliberately preserve them for my children.