Gustafson: Forget about it

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

Here we are at the tail end of 2017, with little time to pause and reflect on how this year will settle into the rearview mirror.

If life can be boiled down to the sum of our memories, we might just have the power to accentuate or eliminate as we mull over past events.

And what if we could create an illusion of our own happiness? I believe in the power of suggestion. A magical, fun-filled holiday season is jingling on its merry way! And epic winter here we come! As for November 2016, well, I may choose to deep-six some of that month for as long as I can hold my political breath.

So, if we could create the illusion of happiness for ourselves, could we then give it as a gift to others?

As community ambassadors in a resort village, we all have a unique ability and perhaps responsibility to help guide and shape the memories of visitors. And as a mother, I feel the same way as I help to mold and shape the minds of my own young children.

Most of us want our children to recall happiness. And in our resort, we also, by and large, want our visitors to leave having experienced a slice of what we live here for; feeling eager to return despite the challenges that can encumber vacations. Delayed flights, booking errors, weather, crowds, altitude sickness, injuries — there’s a list of potential obstacles that can become focal points if they embed themselves in the cynical memory realm.

But there are so many tiny, beautiful, funny moments in life, so it’s hard to say which will carve out the pathways in the brain, defining how we will remember our lives.

As I reminisce, I note that my own memories seem, at times, to be an unreliable recollection of past experiences measured best by what I have been told I should either have enjoyed or struggled through. So I guess I feel personally fortunate — or debatably delusional — having had the selective memory of a naive optimist piloting this voyage.

Last year, while indulging in a trip down holiday memory lane, my sisters and I discovered evidence of the phenomenon that is the power of positive perception. We stumbled onto an old VHS tape labeled “kid’s holiday tape” and were flooded by holiday nostalgia and fond flashbacks. I could instantly smell the pine needles and the burnt metallic scent of the little fire-hazard of a space heater we used to huddle around.

As kids, the holiday break consisted of hours spent out in the snow. When we were not at ski school, we stayed outside until sunset; mittens soaked, boots lost in tree wells, bruised and bloodied from unsupervised sledding and blind leaps of snowy faith, and far too many “told-ya-so” lick-then-stick tongue accidents.

In the late afternoon, we would shuffle in to recover and thaw out on the orange carpet in front of our 10-inch bog-standard TV with a plastic wood effect frame and we would stream that “kid’s holiday tape.”

It was a recording of classics like “It’s Christmas Charlie Brown” and the timeless Burl Ives’ “Rudolph,” interwoven with an eclectic variety of random ’80s programming that must have aired one holiday season when I had been toddling about. And that tape became synonymous with the holidays for us ever after.

Overlapping the first half of an Ewok movie was our collective favorite, “Herself the Elf,” a 12-minute program so entrancing to the three of us little girls that we all agreed that it had seemed feature-length.

Delighted to rediscover this slice of Christmas past, we dusted off an old VCR and curled up with our own kiddos. Much to our surprise, halfway through the already very short special, a WABC-TV Eyewitness News bulletin breaks in with a story of the discovery of a shipment of human heads that had come ashore on a cargo ship in San Francisco.

Nope, the tape had not been recorded over, it was a news bulletin interruption in the original programming; we simply had never noticed as kids. Covering the eyes of our own little ones, we continued to watch in horror as images of round plastic bags, lined up and tagged as evidence in some depraved crime spree flashed across the screen for two full minutes of coverage. Then our little cartoon resumed right where it left off and the happy little elves went along their merry way

As kids, we had watched that video on repeat without flinching every year of my early childhood. And not one of us can recall having noticing the terrifying news story that interrupted our favorite special.

I have always believed that I have a selective-memory when it comes to my childhood and the holidays in particular. Now I’m convinced.

Our real life experiences and our memories of happiness are not always aligned, so, my take away: We can direct them, create them and, yes, even manipulate them.

Who can say how all three of us had suppressed those images, or simply took no notice, despite recalling every detail of how the Elf’s wand looked? The magic of the holidays now feels a little less stable; but the memories we still hold dear. And I am certain that memories can, at times, be better then real-life experiences.

In the same way that my parents used to tell me what a great day I had just had at ski school, even when I was frost-nipped and crying at pickup, if we remind our visitors of just how much fun they are having, they will more likely return.

To the stress placed on adults, and resort communities alike, to try to recreate childhood elation, well, I simply say the best way to keep things from spoiling may be to let the memory do the work. Implant more positive then negative thoughts, for there’s no going back.

After all, the holidays, like vacations, are never perfect. They can be difficult and frustrating and at times disappointing, but in the end, even a shipment of human heads can be obscured by the power of positive suggestion — perhaps some smoke and mirrors — but most of all a good dose of selective-memory.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind, after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at