My first memory is a vague, misty, scarcely-there vision of a railway line, a railway crossing and walking, walking, walking. I would have been around eighteen months old. I know it is a memory because when I talked about it with my mother, she expressed surprise. The scene I had described was where we waited for my brother on his return home from school. It was a non-event for the rest of the family and no-one had talked about it – ever. Thus, I know it is a true memory. So why did I remember this?
I have a theory that early memories occur because of the impact that the event has on the previously undeveloped memory cells. This impact I believe is usually traumatic – a fear, an event so horrible that the memory is permanently stuck. My next one was just that. Immense fear.
We were moving from Tamworth to Casino. I was 4 years old. We apparently had caught the train from Tamworth to Glen Innes. An old man in a Bentley picked us up at the station. None of this I remember but, etched in my memory forever, is the drive down from the plateau of the New England Tableland. The road snaked down the mountain; a constant series of sharp bends. To me it seemed as though we were travelling at half the speed of light. So fast and sharp were the bends that I was unable to stay seated on my side of the car; being thrown from one side to the other. No-one cared that I was crying and frightened.
So what was my first memory? Of what was I scared? It doesn’t have the feel of a scary memory so is my theory incorrect? It’s a pity that you can’t remember happy times in your earlier years. I’m sure I had many. Particularly the year that we lived in New York. Sadly, I remember not one minute of this and rely on photos and others to weave the web of stories that are also mine.
A memory is composed of the feeling, the emotion. Everything else is somewhat incidental and colourless in comparison. How can you put the colour back in a memory? If you are lucky you will have kept a journal. If not, photos are a good means to recall forgotten detail. Other family members and friends (although they won’t have your memory of the event ) may be able to bring back some of the colour. The emotional memory is purely yours.
Reblogged this on Reflections and Nightmares- Irene A Waters (writer and memoirist) and commented:
As I don’t plan on posting today I thought I would pull from the archives an early post that virtually went unnoticed at the time.
A world traveller, so many things to draw memories from!
I wish I did remember those early travels. We lived in New York for a year and sadly I missed the lot.
What a lovely way to put this. It’s true. I wish we remembered more of the good things. And, often, I wonder if it’s a memory at all or, like you said, something people talked about all the time while you were growing up. So that is a great way to distinguish a true memory of an incident (like yours) as opposed to a memory of others talking about it. Interesting. I think most of my memories come from family stories and photographs — but they are not my account.
If we try, can we put the color back or is it lost in the recess of our minds? (I’ll bet Anne has something to say about that!)
Thanks Sarah. You can never be sure how much you remember and how much you think you remember. I was reading an article yesterday about truthiness of memoir. I had seen the word before and took it to mean truthfulness but yesterday I was given the definition and it probably suits memory we have any time in life better as we only believe it to be true and someone else will believe something else.
If anyone has suggestions on how to put colour back I am all ears.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Sadly, I never kept a diary. My first memories are of a birthday party in my grandparents back yard; we lived with them until I was three.
I kept a diary on and off from the time I was eight. Most of them did not survive my many moves. That sounds like a fun first memory to have Noelle.
There’s psychological science that supports times of strong emotion being more strongly encoded which is why we tends to remember the very highs and lows of our early lives and not the bland stuff in between!
One of my early horrors was waking up with my face to the wall and consequently nose to nose with one of these..
Had a problem ever since! Thanks for the much easier way to post photos in a comment. I am thrilled!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I can understand an ongoing fear coming nose to nose with that. What kind of spider is it? I used to be petrified of spiders until I went to a spider lecture. Most now I can capture and relocate outside. There are a few though that would have me screaming and observing from a distance.
Your welcome re photos. It is nice how we can all help each other with bits and pieces.
This is just an ordinary British house spider. No poisonous ones over here as you know! At worse they probably reach a total span of about 5-6cm. It’s the fast movement that has me screaming!!
It’s the look of them I don’t like. Prehistoric and instinctively you know they’re nasty. 🙄
LikeLiked by 1 person
I too am glad you re-posted this fascinating post Irene. How do you put the colour back indeed? I remember you commenting on one of my posts about how much you hate those narrow, high and winding roads spiraling up or down (think it was about Crete?) so this memory from your younger years of careening down that road and being thrown side to side like that obviously had a massive, life-long impact on you. And I’m not surprised. I am also fascinated by your first memory too, you certainly were very young. I read once that our very first memory has a profound effect on the way we look at life in general. I know this is very vague but I remember at the time thinking of my first memory and was surprised that despite having some very sad memories from my, at times traumatic, childhood, my first memory was a very happy one: I am about three and standing on the landing upstairs in front of my mother who is on her knees adjusting the collar of my dress which she had made for me. I see it in blazing colour, the red plaid, sticky out dress with the white fur Christmas collar. My Christmas dress. Despite having some incredible volatile Christmas’s thanks to my dad’s drinking for one thing, I still adore my family Christmas’s 🙂
Thank you Sherri. I tossed up and thought why not when in those early days of blogging virtually no-one looked at my posts so I may turn Thursdays in to reblog Thursday. You, my friend, have been about my longest blogging pal.
Yes you are right about the lifelong affect on me. Reinforced by my mother’s car with a handbrake that didn’t function and intensive care nursing.
You must have really felt something in that Christmas dress. What a beautiful memory, not just of the dress, but of your mother adjusting the collar.
That is interesting about the profound effect that memory has on for the rest of your life. I wonder whether there are memories that you just don’t know are memories because you don’t think of them as memories. Such as remembering that the lady that comes in and picks you up is your mother. Your first memory involved your mother as did mine. I wonder whether it is the memory of mother that shapes your life. That is vague as well. I will have to think more about it to formulate my thoughts from fully.
You will probably already be starting to look forward to Christmas. Can all the family manage to meet? ❤ 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
I think that is a great idea. I might start doing something similar. That might help with the blogging and having more time to write. I look forward to reading more of your earlier posts very much. Yes, well, we have certainly been on an amazing blogging journey together my friend 🙂 I will always treasure the very first comment you made on my blog encouraging me with my dream of writing publication. Our earliest memories involving our mothers, well, that is certainly something worth exploring isn’t it? As you say, what stands out for me is the way Mum is adjusting my collar. But thinking even more of this memory, she is smiling and it is calm and peaceful, happy. The strange thing is that no matter how hard I try, when I look back over the first 10 years of my life before my mum left my dad, I can’t remember one other time when I saw my mother smile. It was always my dad who was laughing, larking about, playing with us. Mum did all the hard work, looked after us, fed us, put us to bed, but she was miserable in her life. I could go on….but I would love to hear more of your thoughts about your memories with your mother, and how you eventually formulate your thoughts. So much here to formulate.
As for Christmas, yes, a lovely time to look forward to. I have my boys coming home soon for Nicky’s birthday and then they will both be home for the entire Christmas holiday so I have much to look forward to. And I haven’t done a thing, so I need to get a move on, pronto 🙂
Have a great rest of the week Irene, it’s been great chatting with you, really has ❤
I’m glad you think it is a good idea Sherri. I felt a bit guilty doing it but then I thought that in those early days very few people saw them and they might not be worth seeing but who knows. They may be of interest to someone and if that is the case then it is worthwhile. I did it mainly because I need a day where I don’t blog but if I do come online then it will be to read other bloggers. I am getting so far behind with my visiting. I don’t know how you keep up with it.
Sad that you never saw your Mum smile and sad for her that her life was so sad. I hope that she got to smile later.
Hope your writing is going well this week. ❤ Irene
Sherri, you have prompted one of my own memories completely forgotten! A red crushed velvet dress with a lace collar. I must ask my mum about it. 🙂
LikeLiked by 2 people
Hi Christine! What a lovely memory 🙂
Thank goodness for seatbelts these days, Irene. What a terrible experience. I also believe only memories of an intense emotional nature are kept all this time. One of my first is of being knocked off my feet by a wave – for a long time I thought I had stepped in a deep hole filled with water – this has given me a healthy respect for the sea. I do have an early pleasurable memory, too – of cats. They were up past my knees and, even in adulthood, I thought they were a huge breed of cat. I remember the wonder and awe and pleasure of touching them. One day it dawned on me just how small I must have been at the time! 😀 Great reblog.
Thanks Christine and thank for adding your memories. It is amazing how big things appear when you are little and what a shock as an adult to realise the reality. You are lucky to have a pleasurable as well as a frightening memory. I wonder if that is the reason our memory focus’s on the less pleasurable experience as a survival instinct it is worth remembering that the sea is dangerous or don’t get in a car with him again. Sherri also bought to mind a red dress I had. Lovely memory. Hope your Mum remembers it. 🙂