One of my fondest memories of childhood is making doughnuts with my mother. The memory is clear: bowls laid out on the formica counter to mix the ingredients, the yeasty dough going into the deep fryer, then coming out piping hot and laid down on paper towels, on melmac plates with elaborate floral patterns, chrysanthemums, I think, but they looked to me at the time, and still look in my memory, like cauliflowers. Cauliflowers of pale cream amongst green leaves on an orange background.
Then, while the doughnuts were still hot, sprinkling them with granulated sugar -- not powdered, but granulated. These are still to this day, the only doughnuts that I really like: raised doughnuts (or donut holes, or malasadas) sprinkled with granulated sugar. I remember waiting/not waiting for the doughnuts to cool, of burning my fingers and the inside of my mouth. Of the contrast of the soft hot dough and the grains of sugar on my tongue.
Except… my mother doesn't remember this. Not at all. I once mentioned to her how I missed those childhood days in the old house in San Pablo, of making doughnuts for breakfast in the morning.
"Doughnuts?" she said, "We never made doughnuts. I don't think I know how to make doughnuts."
I can't disbelieve her. But what am I remembering? Another life? Some other experience, some childhood cooking class? Because I did take one once, in grade school. My mother isn't the most domestic of women, and as an immigrant from the Philippines, cooking American food wasn't her thing, at least not back then--or even now. Am I taking my eight-year-old's experiences and transplanting into my four-year-old's memories?
What is nostalgia? What is memory? Is it fact, or is it fiction? Sometimes in conversations with friends, my husband will reminisce about some experience "we" had: a hike we took, a movie we saw. And I listen to him, and I don't remember the event at all. Is it an experience he had with someone else, or was I so preoccupied with something else that I retain no memories of what had happened?
I don't, as a rule, dwell on the past. Like the "lower" animals, my mind is focused on the present--or, like too many unhappy humans, on the future. Only when other people bring up the past do I start to recall things. The way San Francisco or Berkeley used to be when I was younger, my first job, grad school, college. And while I sometimes regret things that have changed, I don't think I miss any of it, not really.
And I suspect that it's just as well.