However fond one may be of a memory, after a time the details fade. That is just what one expects to happen to a dream. But life is just the same way. The particulars, for some unknown reason, are misfiled by some careless clerk in an underpaid part of the brain. But the meat of the story is there. You can still tell it, though you may have to make some things up to keep the ends together. It still makes sense to you.
I have such a memory as I know to be absolutely reliable. I can see and feel the thing as though it were going on at this moment. I am on a journey with my father. We are either on our way to buy a piece of farm machinery or we are helping to re-enact the discovery of the Mound Builders. The important thing is that I am traveling with my father. He has chosen me to be his companion.
It is a splendid day in the still, balmy, early summer. We are at an extensive farmstead with pecan groves and a fine two story house with the proper sort of veranda. Daddy is waiting to talk to someone and we are amusing ourselves with a pet squirrel in a cage which has been built on stilts beneath one of the great trees.
Papa had a reputation for being, at the same time, pugnacious and gentle. Not one of his sons doubted either the fierceness of his courage or the tenderness of his protection. I felt inspired to show that old fellow that I wasn’t afraid of very much. I stretched out my hand to the squirrel in an unequivocal offer of interspecies friendship and understanding. My father offered no advice.
The squirrel, for his part, was not yet over the indignity of his incarceration and unable to tell one human from another. He bit off the first joint of my index finger. I was at first unsure whether the thing had actually happened. It takes a moment to decide whether something is a vague worry or something you are going to have to live with. I looked at my finger. The skin was sliced all the way around as neatly as any surgeon could do.
After closing the cage I showed the great wound to my father. “Can you move it?” he wanted to know. I tried it. “Yup,” I reported. Dad went back to the truck for a Kleenex and some electrical tape.
Restored to health, I helped Dad buy a plow, guide the Lewis and Clark expedition, and dispel rumors that Native Americans were spacemen. We went home in a car, or a truck, or perhaps a covered wagon. I don’t know how young I was, but I know that I went on a trip with my father. I can still feel the bite.