False Memories by
(354 Stories)

Prompted By Scouting

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When I was young, my older brother was a Cub Scout (wearing a uniform like the image I found online) during two elementary school years. Our mother was a den mother.

I remembered neighborhood boys trooping into our basement for meetings and activities. Earlier this month, Rick told me the meetings were at school and his fellow scouts were classmates. He ticked off unfamiliar names.

I had conflated memories of birthdays and Halloween celebrations with Cub Scout meetings. I never witnessed any, nor have any memories of them.

And our stressed-out, fragile mother would not let me be a Brownie.


//RetroFlash; 100 words

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    You’ve told us an amazing amount in just 100 words, Betsy. False memories, stressed-out mother and never being a Brownie. And you set up the false memory perfectly by first stating it as if a fact before disclosing in the next sentence that you couldn’t have remembered it.

    May I also assume that your mother never was a den mother?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      My mother really was a den mother for my brother’s cub scout troop. It was because of that experience that she would NOT let me become a Brownie. She couldn’t go through HER experience again and I gather she thought she’d have to be a den mother again. I must have been around 4 or 5 when my brother was a cub scout (as he did it for two years in elementary school and is 5 years my elder), so obviously, my memories of that era are mostly formed by home movies, photos and whatever he’s told me.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    My mother also didn’t relish being a den mother for my youngest brother, so I was the one in the basement trying to get squirmy little boys to earn a badge. Early memories are easily conflated with other things, but the main point was your mother’s fear of repeating her experience with your older brother.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      True, Laurie. Being 5 years younger than my brother put me at a disadvantage, both for remembering what happened (Rick didn’t have time to fill me in on too many details; all I know is that the meetings did NOT take place in our basement, as I thought I’d remembered), and the experience of being den mother for my brother’s troop was so awful for our mother that she wouldn’t allow me to participate at all.

  3. Dave Ventre says:

    The longer we live, the more things we have to go into the confused stew of our recollections!

  4. Suzy says:

    Thanks for writing this, Betsy, and it makes me so sad. I think you would have really liked Girl Scouts. Your mother would not have needed to be involved, my mother never was. It was an early feminist organization before we even knew what that was! Girl empowerment and sisterhood was what it was all about!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I’m not sure why my mother thought she had to be involved, Suzy. I just know that she wouldn’t let me get involved when I wanted to join and she had the final say. I remember being sad at the time, but couldn’t buck her decision.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    I also find that my clear memories are not necessarily what really happened once others weigh in. Your poor mother must have been quite traumatized by the rowdy cub scouts. I have deep respect for teachers who try teach their unruly students as well. And all parents.

  6. Marian says:

    That’s too bad, Betsy, that you wanted to be a brownie and couldn’t be. If there were a third sibling in my family, I doubt they’d be permitted to be a scout after my mom’s den mother experience. We are all suited (or not) to different things. I understand about memories being garbled, because I couldn’t remember at which house my brother’s cub scout meetings took place. Fortunately my brother indicated that cub scouts start at age 8, so it had to be our house in North Caldwell.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Who knows if I would have actually enjoyed being a Brownie. I just remember that I wanted to join and my mother wouldn’t let me, so I was envious of those girls who came to school in their uniforms. It is funny how memory plays tricks on us after all these years. My brother has an extraordinarily good memory, so I can check in with him about some things. And starting in college, I kept track of my life. Before then…not so much.

  7. Jim Willis says:

    Betsy, your account made me realize I have only fleeting memories of being a Cub Scout, at best. It was at my parents’ urging that I joined. I would have preferred the solitary creative environment of my own bedroom, though!

  8. Betsy, sorry for your early Brownie disappointment, but I know since then you’ve made up for it with a very active life!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I don’t even know what I missed, just that I wanted to try it and wasn’t allowed, so that was disappointing at the time. But you are correct, Dana. I’ve done loads of other fun stuff in my life, so probably didn’t miss much anyway.

  9. You had me at False Memories, Betsy! I’ve been giving that a lot of thought lately, particularly the way a photograph may distort or even replace the experience. (Susan Sontag writes eloquently about this.) I’ve found the same is true of writing, that once I’ve committed a memory to the written word, what I’ve written overshadows the actual memory. Not sure if you ever saw the classic movie “Rashomon” where three people remember the same incident very differently. Who knows which version is the correct one? What you experienced is yet another variation on the theme, illustrating how fickle memory really is. Very effective RetroFlash…with a sad twist at the end.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I have not seen “Rashomon”, Barb, but I think the very notion of memory becomes more and more interesting as we age. What do we really remember vs what is planted there by old photos? Or what we’ve been told by relatives? When we got home from London after our granddaughter was born, my husband wanted to see a particular photo of him holding our son at the baby’s age. I knew the one he mentioned and showed it to him. No that wasn’t what he had in mind. He described something different, one that didn’t exist except in his mind. I showed him all the photos in the album from that period. “What did you do with it?”, he demanded, like I had thrown it away. But he had a false image. The photos are real. I put them there 35 years ago and I’ve been through these albums more times than I can count now. He hasn’t looked ever.

      My mother did the best she could, which was less well as the years went on. She was still functioning when we were little, but evidently, trying to control the little boys overwhelmed her. She barely functioned after our move out of Detroit in 1963. Hard to believe that she lived until 2010.

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