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Article posted: April 11, 2002

"I am not knowing what is the truth."
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles

Toward the end of the film Sophie's Choice, the sad and frantic Sophie says, "I am not knowing what is the truth."

There are so many versions of stories, especially those recounted to us by family members, that it can be difficult to determine what actually happened. What do we do?

Collecting family stories from many sources is a form of oral history, a technique as old as people, and very new in the academic world. Traditional historians have always downgraded oral evidence because there is no proof, no facts. Fans of oral history point out that information available only through stories handed from person to person may provide color, subtlety and a fresh viewpoint.

I have been reminded of this fascinating situation in recent weeks while I have been interviewing old hockey players for a book celebrating fifty years of our local team.

It was to be expected that while one guy might be a hero to some, he would be the opposite to others. After all, it only takes one bad day in the dressing room to affect memories for a lifetime.

Then you consider the circumstances of a specific incident and the variations dazzle.

A favorite moment of everyone on the team in 1965 was when they made a road trip to play in Des Moines. The new coach, Eddie Long, had played on the team for the previous thirteen years, so most of the guys were old friends. For a coach, this can be difficult for discipline.

Eddie was planning on enforcing the curfew rule. All the players were to be in their rooms and would not go out again. It's hard to convince adult, high-spirited males that a curfew is in their best interests.

So two of the wild ones on the team padded quietly out the door, hoping they could come back again much later without being noticed. Of course Eddie found out they were gone. He decided to settle down in the lobby to wait them out.

So far, all the stories agree. It's only when the two bad boys return that everyone's memories seem to diverge.

In Eddie's version, he is wide awake when they show up. He speaks to them sternly, fines them and packs them off to bed. The coach as hero.

Some players think that the two found Eddie fast asleep in the lobby and tiptoed past him. When he discovered them fast asleep in bed later, they claimed simply to have been playing cards down the hall when he missed them before. A simple mistake! Helpful teammates back them up-they were at the card game too.

One of the wild boys has a better version. In it, they find Eddie sleeping so soundly that they are able to unzip his trousers as they pass him in the hotel lobby. They leave him in this embarassing fashion and sleep soundly for the two or three hours left in the night. This is the more swashbuckling interpretation of events.

Which is true? Perhaps none, although the second version has more advocates and perhaps seems more likely. It is true that Eddie was still angry enough the next morning at practice that various other players came under the whip as well as the two groggy night owls.

Whatever the situation, a careful historian will record all the possibilities and leave it to posterity to decide. The real fun is in hearing everyone tell their story, with indignation or glee intact after thirty-five years.

As for me, I'm with Sophie. I am not knowing what is the truth.

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