Giving Life to Faulty Memories

What would you say is the best remedy for a faulty memory? A diary? A photo album? Home movies? Whatever it is you are currently reading this blog post on? You could make a solid argument for all of these, but today I want to talk about that last one. Or rather, something that you likely have on it: an internet search engine.

Picture of an old building on a downtown main street. The building says "Smith-Welch Memorial Library" on the front.
This library was as dark and dusty as it looks, and I loved it!

I know, I know. Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, or whatever search engine floats your boat, isn’t a particularly interesting topic to write about. We all know how they work. We know how to find just about any niche thing we can think up somewhere out there on the world wide web with a good search engine and some well-chosen words.

I also think we’ve grown so accustomed to it that we take the sheer technological omniscient power of the internet for granted. But every once in a while, I come across something that reminds me how amazing it truly is. I regain information I thought I’d lost long ago, or perhaps never even knew. I have two such instances to share with you today. The first one is about a book.

In my early teen years, I volunteered random Saturdays at our small town library. I’d dust shelves, clean floors, and organize the magazines; in exchange, I’d borrow as many books as my arms could carry. I typically picked speculative fiction books (surprise, surprise), though sometimes I’d come across a contemporary novel that intrigued me. One such book haunted me for years because while the plot hooked my mind and stayed with me, the author and title slipped from memory.

Once the internet became a common household tool in the late 90s, I checked library forums to see if anyone might know the name of the book or author. No such luck; the internet simply wasn’t robust enough at that time. The idea of typing “80s book about teens whose parents send them to camp to be killed” into a search engine like Alta Vista or Ask Jeeves and getting actual results is downright laughable now. Still, I tried it. No dice.

Jump forward to the 2020s, and such a search is not only NOT laughable; it’s fruitful! Last year, I thought of the novel while answering query questions about my favorite teen books, and I figured I’d give it another shot.

And gues what—IT WORKED! 

The book (if you don’t happen to know it) is called The Grounding of Group 6 by Julian F. Thompson. I think it’s utterly amazing that I can type a short yet vaguely descriptive sentence about a book I haven’t read in over thirty-five years into the mobile computer in my back pocket and within seconds, get the title, author, publication date, and even images of the original cover. Memory holes, patched!

Image of the new edition book jacket of  of the book, with a sticker on it that says "Borders Discount 10% off publisher's list price."
I picked it up at a 100% discount!

But wait! There’s an epilogue to this story. About six months ago, I came across a copy of that book—albeit a new edition with a different cover—in the little curbside library closest to our house. Naturally, I grabbed it! I plan to reread it this winter to see if the story and writing still hold up. Finding it so easily might seem like some great coincidence, but a movie adaptation is apparently in the works, so it’s had a bit of a revival.

The second tale reaches back into my earliest memories, when recollections are more impressions than solid pictures or information. This one is about a board game that belonged to my older sisters. I was no more than four or five at the time. I remember being intrigued by the game, though I don’t recall actually playing it myself. Here’s what little I remember: the board was set up like a room, with dark green, yellow, and red colors; it came with a small, orange-tinted record that narrated the game in an ominous voice; the design included dark wood, like paneling or furniture; and it was spooky or scary, like a haunted house.

Thoughts of this board game flit through my mind much the same as anything we try to recall from our past—in random, unexpected ways while we’re either bored and day-tripping down memory lane or trying to conjure some lateral memory.  Last month, I decided to look for this game in earnest using search words that were distinctive: 1970s spooky board game with miniature record narrating game. Vague, yes, but once again, the internet did not fail me.

Gentlefolk, I give you: Séance, The Voice from the Great Beyond

Image of the board game box, which shows an old english-looking room with a grandfather clock, suit of armor, fireplace, and red and yellow wallpaper, plus other gameplay items.
I dont remember playing it, but surely I would have won.

I knew this was it as soon as I came across the pictures and description on a website that catalogues old board games (not the same as the one linked above—I can’t find that one anymore). The images of the grandfather clock, the red and yellow wallpaper, and the chair-shaped player pieces fell into place and filled the holes in my memory. Congratulations, me!  After forty-five years, I now have a tangible name to pair with the image fragments in my mind.

What does that get me?  Honestly, not much other than solid proof that this soft, blurry recollection isn’t a misremembering or even a fabrication. It’s troubled me for years, because I couldn’t remember enough to help my sisters recall the game, and yet it stuck there in my head, too specific to not be real. It adds solidity to my childhood at a time when progressively more of it seems to be evaporating into mist. That’s a win, I’d say. So thanks to the collective human-fueled omniscience of the internet, my spotty memory has a champion.

I also thought perhaps if I can find an intact (and decently-priced) version of Séance, we could make it a new date night game. Not only does it sound like creepy fun, but it features the voice of Boris Karloff. ‘Tis spooky season, after all!

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