Monday, 1 August 2016

Memories


This post was inspired by this recent BBC article; it talks about early memories and why we don't recall anything from before two-and-a-half years old, at the very earliest, despite there being some major things going on during those years, like being born, for instance.

It made me think about my earliest memories. Each one is a visual memory, lasting only seconds, sometimes just the equivalent of a photograph, one single frame - and the glimpses into my past are the same every time I think about them. Either I have no imagination or my life was quite dull! I've been told that our memories are constantly changing as we think and re-think about them, but that is not the impression I have of my own memories. They seem to be constant, and try as I will, I cannot add to the details.

The following memories are all from before I was five; I know this for sure because they all took place in the house we moved away from when I was five years old.


... having relatives from the U.S. visit on a summer day when my older brother and I were recovering from the mumps. We were well enough to be up and around and playing hide and seek by the time our company came, although my neck still felt sore. I hope we didn't pass on our ick to our cousin. Another brief memory from that day was that we had more people than chairs at meal time, so we used the piano bench as a seat for several people along one side of the table. For some reason, that made a big impression on me.

... the aftermath of a fall from a rocking chair, during which I bit my tongue deeply. I don't remember the fall, the blood, or the pain but if you want the details my mother can still provide a full description. No stitches; the mouth heals quickly. The only memory I actually have is from the next morning, when my father carried me downstairs and my mother gave me a glass of orange juice - which stung my tongue and I couldn't drink more than a mouthful. I had a horizontal scar on my tongue for many years; there is still a small line there. Unless that's just a normal line - I don't know - is it normal to have an indentation going from side to side on the surface of your tongue? Why are we not taught these critical things in health class? All I know is that it has never stopped me from talking - which some people think is a pity.

... crying as the television set which had been lent to us for awhile was taken away again. I hid my head under one of the couch cushions to have a proper boo-hoo. We didn't have a TV again until I was about 10 years old. In retrospect, I'm glad of that. I had to use my imagination a lot, and I read and read and read, which is a good basis for later learning.

... seeing my brother cry when he came home from school to the news that our elderly, deaf dog had been struck and killed by a car while trotting beside the road ... strangely, I did not feel any sadness myself that I can recall. But I remember my brother retreating behind a large chair to cry and getting mad at me for following him and not leaving him alone. I don't think empathy had kicked in yet.

... playing the piano, a simple tune - probably Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. I had a little music book with numbered notes. My daytime babysitter was very patient with me, I'm told. Just imagine if you had to listen to the same tune over and over and over. You'd have to be a saint.

... visiting the house we would move into when I was five. The family living there had a disabled adult daughter, and she was playing with some sort of large machine. I remember thinking that when we moved in I'd be able to see it closer and figure out what it was - that was before I realized that moving means taking all your stuff with you, and that goes for the people who are vacating the house, too!

... going to school with my mother for a day. She taught in a one-room school with grades from primary to senior. I can remember sitting and doing something to keep busy (colouring? hah - probably not, I never liked to colour ... looking at books? more likely) while she taught. At lunch time the older girls took me outside to have a picnic; they were superbly kind and mothering and I wanted for nothing. It was a beautiful warm-but-not-hot day, so it was probably in June, close to the end of the school year.

How about you? What are your earliest memories? How old do you estimate you were? Anything else to add? I'd love to hear about it. It's an endlessly fascinating topic for me.


I was between 12 and 18 months in this photo. Too young to remember a blessed thing, apparently. Somehow I don't have any "age 4-5" photos of myself. I haven't grown much, and I still squint in the sunlight. Also? I've figured out how to post things without a scanner - by taking a photo! It's a photo of a photo, folks.


24 comments:

  1. It IS interesting what we remember. You seem to remember a lot, actually. I suppose if I inventoried my earliest memories I'd also have more than I initially would guess. I don't remember anything before about 1969, when I was 2 or 3. But Georgia O'Keeffe, the artist, once claimed to remember light while she was lying on a blanket as an infant, so who knows?

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    1. I was surprised by the number of memories I actually had, once they were all written down, so I think you're right about your having more than you'd guess.

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  2. Fascinating post. I love early memories too. Mine are mildly traumatic though I think that has more to do with my turn if mind and how I processed the world than with the events themselves. Maybe, inspired by you, I'll do a post about this one day soon.

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    1. It would be interesting to me to read it, so I hope you do!

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  3. For a long time I thought my earliest memories were from when I was around three years old. Then, when I was 11, I saw a home movie taken on our visit to my parents' home town of Ardmore, Oklahoma (I saw the movie on a subsequent visit) in which I was standing ankle-deep in lake Murray, drinking from a bottle of Nehi soda by extending my arms all the way and grasping the bottle by the bottom and lifting it. It felt very strange at the time, as I completely remembered it. I don't think that I was two yet in the movie, as I was born in December of 1960 and I think our trip to Ardmore was in the summer of 1962. Could that be right? Could I have been standing in the water and drinking a soda at that age? Anyhow, that's how I remember it, and the article you linked to did mention video spurring early memories.
    Besides that one, my earliest memories start at around age three, and don't come into focus as a time line for several more years. In fact, my sequential memory doesn't work that well, even though I'm fairly good at recalling things when I set my mind to it, I found out I had the sequences all wrong about a number of events over the past few decades when I was trying to make a story out of a couple of them and couldn't make the details agree with themselves. After thinking about it and trying to fill in the blanks with the events where they actually had to have happened, I came up with an entirely new sequence that did make sense, but changed up some of the things I thought I remembered. Like the night I rode our motorcycle home from Sacramento in the heavy fog with Briana following me in the car to keep me from being run over by crazy people driving sixty when they couldn't see, I had remembered her driving my Torino, but on re-examination I realized that we didn't have the Torino yet and she was driving her Datsun. That was a shocker, as I had a fairly clear visual memory of the Torino's headlights behind me, but I guess I must have just imagined how they would have looked because of having seen them so many other times. The workings of memory is a strange thing indeed.

    -Doug in Oakland

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    1. Yes, strange for sure. And we all seem to recall different things from the same event, or at least that's been our observation with the things our kids remember from special events versus the things my husband or I remember. It's neat that the home video drew that early memory out of your brain!

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    2. Oh, by the way, that's a very cute photo.

      -Doug in Oakland

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    3. Aw, thanks, Doug. The cute wore off not long after that :)

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  4. My earliest memory is at 18 months, and I have quite a few stashed from that "no memory" period. I don't know why I retained them. My mother did verify the earliest, but when I told her as an adult how Maggie shut my fingers in the gate (less than two years of age), she didn't recall a child named Maggie.

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    1. Ah yes, but you're getting into the territory my mom and I are in now - am I the one remembering wrong, or is she? Maybe we both are :) I don't think the "no memory" thing is hard and fast. Some people are definitely better in the memory department.

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  5. I am not certain what memories are real, and which are my interpretation of often told family tales. And have no early memories I can swear to.

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    1. We didn't have family tales, not that I can remember anyway, and I think that helps me be more sure of what my true memories are. But can we ever really be sure anyway? It's an intriguing idea.

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  6. I have a couple. This one will explain a lot. I remember standing in a crib and watching a big spider crawl around a flower pot. I also remember being in a tub with my cousin and screeching bloody murder when my eyes suddenly started burning and I didn't know why until my step mom rinsed the soap out. I also remember calling my step mom "mommy" and I think I must have been between 2 and 3 because that seems to be an age when toddlers do that with other people close to them. I think it's funny that sometimes I can't remember something that happened yesterday, but I can recall whole conversations from 10 years ago. Maybe in 10 years I'll remember what I forgot yesterday!

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    1. Oh, yes, the spider one does seem like it would be connected to the present, doesn't it :) I know what you mean about the recent memory. My excuse is that there's only so much room in there, and as you get older it gets too full.

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    2. I'm glad the spider didn't bite me like Geo's did! Yikes. I don't usually mention this, because it doesn't make sense, but the spider was being followed by a line of baby spiders. Having never witnesses such spider behaviour I have to conclude that either the memory is faulty or someone put LSD in my bottle and I had a Fantasia experience.

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    3. I'm thinking the line of baby spiders behind the big one would not be unheard of. Although I haven't personally seen it, it makes sense to me.

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  7. Wow! I barely remember breakfast this morning.

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    1. Eat the same thing every day, then it's easier to remember :)

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  8. I can remember being born. "It's a beautiful boy," cried the mid-wife, a short rotund lady with grey hair and cold hands.

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    1. Hah! Nobody could argue with that kind of proof!

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  9. I honestly cannot remember anything before second grade. It sucks, but I'm happy you remember something, haha!

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    1. It seems to be a very individual thing, doesn't it? Thanks for dropping in!

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  10. Earliest: I remember being in a crib in the front room, getting examined by our family doctor. Years later, my parents told me I'd been bitten by a spider when I was not quite 2 years old and the memory was accurate.

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    1. Now that's cool, to have your early memory corroborated so well. (Not so cool to be bitten by a spider, on the other hand.) You're definitely one of the people mentioned in the article that can recall earlier than most.

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