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.

Sinclair Dinoland - 1964-65 New York World's Fair
Borrowed from The Pie Shops’ photostream

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.


10 thoughts on “memories”

  1. I love this post, Zazzy, so interesting. I’m big into memory too. Part of my degree was an oral history module where we studied lots of different things to do with memory and recall and story telling and how we will always put our own spin on things, even unconsciously. Often stories are retold in the light of what has happened since, so memory and recall can be very slippery things to get a hold of. Also, two people recalling exactly the same event will tell it in two different ways, because our perspectives are completely different. But I think we should tell our stories how we want to, because they are ours, our perspective, and that speaks volumes too.

    My earliest memory is watching my dad tile our bathroom (from blue tiles to lemon) from the top of the stairs and then falling backwards down them. I wasn’t hurt but I remember my parents standing over me at the bottom (not picking me up, mind!). I was about 2 1/2 because my dad remembers this incident too and tells me my mum was pregnant with my sister at the time. It was a warm day, the summer before my sister’s birth in October, so I was about 2 1/2. Of course, memory being what it is, my mum might not have been pregnant, so I could have been anything from 1 1/2 to 4 1/2!!

    I loved reading your stories. Polly


    1. Memories are very slippery! The spin we put on our memories from childhood as adults is very interesting to me. It makes me a little sad that I tend to feel embarrassed about innocent childhood events. Or guilty. I used to work with a lot of adults who had been abused as children and one of the hardest things for them to get past was the judgment of their memories from an adult perspective. I agree with you, our stories are ours and are told from our perspective and probably tell a lot about us and what has happened in our lives. I used to get so angry when Dad would say “that never happened” about one of my memories simply because he was remembering from a different perspective – like the rock that I remember looking like a turtle when we camping in Eleven Mile Canyon when I was 4 – and he just remembered as a big rock.


  2. Prior to around age 5, memory tends to be images and some feelings.

    I’m glad that you said this because the story of my first memory is really an adult putting together a series of images + feelings. I know that I’ve heard people say that they remember nothing from their early years, but I wonder now if they just don’t understand that the way in which we record a memory changes as we grow up.

    Fascinating to think that your mother knew what caused you to be shy. Is that possible? Kind of trippy to think that it might be.


    1. I think you’re right and that people don’t generally understand how we put together memories from our very early years. Perhaps we expect them to be complete stories like they become when we are a little older and our brains are more developed.

      I kind of doubt that my mom was right – though it probably influenced how I responded to strangers. Do you think we’re born introverted or extroverted or are we shaped by experiences? I was certainly more extroverted as a child and became more and more shy as I felt rejected or different from others. On the other hand, I was definitely the type of kid who could hide for hours with a good book and not need anyone else around in order to entertain myself.


      1. Just a thought Zazzy – you hearing the story of how your mum thought that incident is what made you shy, hearing that story with that spin / emphasis would have helped steer you in that direction (in my humble opinion). If you’re told something often enough, you believe it and act accordingly, especially because adults, to a child of the age you were, are all knowing creatures and cannot possibly be wrong!


        1. That’s true, too, Polly. Of interest in the mix, my mom’s experiences in life led her to constantly warn me that people didn’t really like me and I shouldn’t trust them. She repeatedly told me things like my friends were judging me if my room wasn’t perfectly clean and how people were nice to you only if they wanted something from you. Plus, as I wrote, I was a bossy kid and she told me people wouldn’t like me that way. So there was definitely a lot of the “nurture” influence in the nature v. nurture argument.


  3. I had a fake fur coat too!(a beige one) Since I was such a small child, other students called me “The monkey in the bear suit.” My earliest memories are of traveling across the mountain pass to celebrate Christmas with my grandparents–the scary snow and Dad crawling under the car to put on chains. Both parents smoking in the car while I held my nounou(blankie) over my face. The big lights(huge flash apparatus back then) when Gpa wanted to take photos. I remember my dad taking me to see the trains and going to my gpa’s office to get my teeth cleaned. He was a dentist and a dramatic Italian who always fussed that I wasn’t flossing. I also recall my mom crying when the news came over the radio that President Kennedy had been shot. It was the first time I’d ever seen her cry and it was scary.


    1. I remember my early dentist appointments, too. He wasn’t my grandfather, unfortunately. I remember a lot of screaming involved! I know the story of my mom hearing when JFK died – so I know what I was doing. I was almost 11 months old and eating.


  4. Certainly a very interesting topic to contemplate.
    I think when I was about 6, I started going for overnights at my g’mas farm. My g’pa was a heavy cigar smoker and their house just reeked of it. I think even the walls, floor, and ceiling were saturated. I am still taken back there when I go into a tobacco shop (which is very seldom). I also remember the sound of her chickens – the rooster crowing a daybreak, and those little chicken sounds they make when they’re strolling around the yard.
    At that same age, I had my tonsils out. Nobody told me a think. I did not know they were going to cover my face with a big black mask. When the nurse said “now we’re going to hold hands” I did not know it was a vise grip to prevent me from tearing at the mask.
    My other g’ma also lived on a farm. She had 3 different gardens – one for vegetables, one for flowers, and one for whatever was left over. We drove out to see her one summer day and she wasn’t in the house, but pretty soon she came, in her housedress and sturdy black shoes, carrying an enormous armful of the most gorgeous gladiolus – different brilliant colors. We went in a put them in a vase to adorn her “sideboard”. A very distinct memory. Glad to be reminded.


    1. I have very fond memories of my grandma and grandpa’s farm. I can’t really place the earliest memories but I loved feeding and petting the chickens. Some of my friends talk about how mean chickens are but I have vivid memories of squatting among them patting their heads. I remember picking fruits and vegetables and riding around on grandpa’s tractor.

      Your tonsil surgery sounds horrible! It is so much better that now they explain to kids what’s going to happen and not just scare them to death.


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