Did That Childhood Backyard Basketball Game Happen Exactly Like You Remember It Did? Probably Not


Memories are unreliable. In a story for Wired, Jonah Lehrer wrote, “Memory is less like a movie, a permanent emulsion of chemicals on celluloid, and more like a play — subtly different each time it’s performed. In my brain, a network of cells [that make up memories] is constantly being reconsolidated, rewritten, remade.”

In this light, it makes sense that people remember things differently. When it comes to backyard sports though, I think that we not only remember things differently, but also stretch the truth to make the story more of a story, and that is perfect.

To me, backyard sports are as American as hot dogs and apple pie. I grew up on them, and if I ever have kids, I hope to play with them as well. Many of my childhood memories are from backyard sports.

From about 1996 or so to 2008, my cousins Joe and Dan, my brother, Will, and I would invite four other brave souls up north for "Sports Weekend" either at my Uncle Gerry's cabin in Lake, Michigan or Empire, Michigan. The weekend was exactly what it the name implied: We separated into two teams of four, and competed the entire weekend. A round of golf, a seven game series of basketball, a seven game series of baseball, and a seven game series of football. If one team didn't win 3 out of 4 sports, we had a race up the Sleeping Bear Dunes. You never left the weekend without every single muscle in your body feeling like it was going to tear into a million little pieces at any moment. 

Stories from Sports Weekend fill backyard sports lore beyond its brim. There was the time I destroyed Will on the dune climb, the time Joe hit a Sports Weekend ending home run, or the time that Will almost single-handedly won Sports Weekend because he was 14 and we were all 11. These stories, however, are different depending who you hear them from.

Joe claims his home run was bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the 9th that towered above the trees that marked the home run (I remember it as a two-run homer with two outs, still pretty amazing). Will says it was a one-run homer with no outs that snuck over the tree line.

Memories differ. And that's fine: would you rather remember one of the best backyard sports moment of your life as the most dramatic thing possible or remember it as a ho-hum experience?

My family calls a “boo-lie” a harmless stretch of the truth. “Boo-lies” are acceptable as long as no one is being hurt in the process and the boo-liar accepts that he or she is kind of like the boy who cried wolf if no one ever trusts them. Common family boo-lies include Aunt Sue telling us that she out-jumped Carl Lewis and was an Olympic Bronze Medalist or Uncle Gerry saying that he was Isiah Thomas when you answered the phone.

Boo-lies were commonplace, so commonplace that I rarely believe a believable story from a family member nowadays. My Aunt Sue passed away in December of 2011. We remembered her boo-lies fondly. But we also remembered how much she had really lived, how some of those boo-lies she told were true.

I remember getting in the car with Sue, my brother, and my two cousins to head from my Grandparent’s place to Uncle Gerry’s some holiday. We piled into her two-door, forest green Ford excited to get to Uncle Gerry’s to play basketball. She backed out of her parking spot and absent-mindedly pulled out so that the back end was facing the way of the one-way street. We were backwards. Instead of heading back into the parking spot and heading the right way, Aunt Sue said, “Hold on!” and gunned it, leaving the four of us in the back screaming like the bunch of wild kids we were.

For all I know, it might not have happened like that. But I like the memory as it is. With family memories, just like backyard sports memories, it’s better to believe in them and remember them and be happy with them.