The earliest memories that I recall are when I was about five years old. I don’t know if that is early, late, or average for “first” memories, but when searching back that’s as far as my memory seems to go. Sometimes what we think of as memories are actually recollections from hearing about photographs in detail. We hear who is in the picture, what they are saying and doing sometimes…our reaction: did we laugh? cry? make an adorable face? What about the little bonnet…who sewed that? was it the person in the photo? All of these details may connect themselves to a picture in an album, recounted countless times within our hearing.
Remember the photo of Dad sitting on that ubiquitous pony, wearing baby knickers and a natty cap, holding a flag or whirly-gig in his little hand? I’ll bet each of us can fill in details…was he thrilled/apprehensive/frightened at the whole photographic event? Grandma, or someone else (maybe Dad himself) recalls each historic detail in rote fashion, having learned the story ages previously.
There’s a photo of Me in a small pool. I am not happy…in fact the little girl Me was screaming. Scared? Cold? Temper? Did the other little kid in the picture smack Me with that little pail he is holding?
I especially like the one of Me dressed like a private eye, leaning on a tree chatting on a little telephone.
OK, that’s enough of that!
In view of the fact that the Little Me is a baby,two or three…maybe four…in those pictures, obviously none of these are actual memories. They are based on information gleaned from someone else’s memory…recollections of tales of impressions of memories–that have evolved into compilations of perceptions of…sometimes numerous…people.
As for actual memories of very early age, I have managed to think up a handful of ideas that may or may not be memories.
One that I think is genuine is a circumstance that I have written about previously in this blog. I was barely five years old, and my Dad and I were enroute to California on a train. It was probably 1939. My mother and little brother were already in California.
The train stopped in the middle of the Arizona desert for some reason, and my Dad and other men on the train got off to have a smoke. Some ladies on the train looked after Little Me. I was terrified that the train would leave Dad in the desert. To this day I can summon the memory of the fear and terror of Little Me, and visions of the desert and mountainous terrain, and sand…cactus…more sand… still come unbidden when I think about my Dad, trains, California, or the Desert.
That is a memory…at least I’m 99% sure of it, because there is no other source of recollection for me. I was on the train, alone for all intents and purposes (the ladies not withstanding) and I’m sure my Dad did not worry about the situation since he had not abandoned me, and knew I was perfectly safe.
Another memory is of that same period, 1939, arriving at my grandparents’ home in Long Beach. I remember the small house with screened porch, and circular driveway lined with orange trees–with oranges. The reason I think that is a real memory is because it was an impression that I had that no one else apparently shared…at least they never mentioned it. Occasionally an image pops into my head.