I asked Ally today about her earliest memory, a post I have been thinking about writing for a while. It is, in part, a response to Margaret’s question about what I was like as a child.
In the lost archives, I have written about memory before and I’m probably repeating myself. Memory fascinates me. The things we remember from early childhood, I think, are particularly interesting. Continuous memory doesn’t start until around 10 years of age. Prior to that, we remember mostly important events, things that stuck with us for one reason or another. Memory jumps around a lot and it can be influenced by family memories – stories that are told over and over again in your family.Still, those memories can be fairly complete and include details and events around them. Prior to around age 5, memory tends to be images and some feelings. They’re hard to place in time. I think because we have not learned to do that yet. I mean, ask me when something happened and I am immediately thinking about where I was living or what I was doing at the time in order to place the event in my life’s timeline.
I can place my first memory in time because – well because my family can confirm it and place it for me. When I was 18 months old, we went to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Probably somewhere there are even slides of the fair! Oh that would be fun to find. At any rate, they had giant dinosaurs at the fair. I know they made noises and I thought they moved, but I can’t find confirmation of the movement. But they scared the hell out of me and made me cry.
I have bits and pieces of memories – like meeting who would become my best childhood friend at 2 1/2 and learning to read and write at 3 1/2 and 4 1/2. You’d think I remember important things like birthdays or Christmas but those don’t start until I’m around 6.
One silly event I remember I was probably 3 1/2 or 4, out shopping with my mom and her friend Jean (Aunt Jeanie Baby). We often went to the Forum cafeteria for lunch at Antioch Center (where Krogers and my favorite place, the Library, were housed) and I remember an older lady telling me I was a pretty little girl. I remember because I replied, “I know!” much to my mom’s embarrassment.
I said the other day, dichotomies filled my life. I was a shy little girl, usually afraid of strangers. Mom told me that at 6 months old the neighbor lady (with big black horn-rimmed glasses) was leaning over my carriage and her child shook the carriage and startled me awake. Mom was sure that was why I was shy. On the other hand, I was bossy. I was the kid telling all the other kids what to do and say in make-believe games. Mom said that she used to tell me to let the other kids do what they wanted. I was quiet and I loved to read. I used to hide in the cottonwood tree where I could read and not be found. I took dance class and was always putting on dances and plays at school. I was teased and not a popular kid. I was told I was smart and I was told I wasn’t good enough, not smart enough. In the forth grade, my parents bought me a furry coat for winter which I loved. I asked if it was real fur and they told me it was – which it wasn’t. When I was teased at school about that, they insisted they were joking that it was real fake fur.
I don’t think my childhood was that different from most. I suspect that most people contain those parts of ourselves that are polar opposites. We’ve mostly all be teased, not felt good enough, and had our own personal delusions of grandeur. It’s interesting to me what people remember. What events shaped us later in life. What kind of spin we put on things from the past when we remember them today.
If you want to play along, add a comment about your earliest memories and how they shaped you. Or a link to your own post. Or whatever.