Saturday, March 31, 2007

Earliest memory

One of the most interesting books I have read recently is another book on memory Why Life Speeds Up as You Get Older: How Memory Shapes Our Past by Douwe Draaisma. I've mentioned this writer and his book on the metaphors of memory before.

WHY LIFE SPEEDS UP... is a collection of essays on the theme of memory. One essay was on a study of people's earliest memories. Usually people have these around the age three, although for some people they are earlier or later, and usually they involve something startling - starting nursery school for instance. My earliest memory was from the age of three (so I am disappointingly average) and it is this:

Somehow, when I was playing with my bricks, I fell and cut my lip badly and had to be taken to hospital to have stitches. The strange thing is I can't remember the moment of injury but I do have a memory of the scene immediately afterwards. It comes as a single snapshot of a street. It is as if everything is silent even though I know that it couldn't have been. I see a pale panorama of distant houses and a white sky and I have a very vague recollection of people. I know they are there but I'm not really noticing them. My clearest memory is that of the wing of a light blue and white car - which must have been a neighbour's because I am not sure that my parents had one - and I have an idea that I am being held in someone's arms and wrapped in a blanket. The strangest thing about this memory is that everything seems washed out and almost colourless...and the silence. Sometimes it seems close to a dream.

According to Draaisma's essay, people sometimes see themselves in their memories. They stand apart as if they are looking at the child that was them. But I am there in this scene looking at the car, and it is this that is interesting me. I expect I am frightened (probably by my mother's reaction) and my mouth must be hurting but I don't remember either of these things. I am fascinated by the prospect of a journey in my neighbour's car and I have the vaguest memory of feeling cold.

But how much of this is true? Sometimes I wonder if this is really a memory or something partly invented because I have often returned to it in my mind. It is 'my earliest memory' and consequently I cherish it and revisit it - perhaps too much.


Blogger Anne S said...

One of my earliest memories is from about the age of three and I still remember the injustice of the moment.

I was in hospital to have my tonsils out. I had been given a bunny rug by someone to comfort me for the trauma. I had long wanted one and I loved it.

I remember the ether of the anaesthetic being applied before the operation and I also remember waking up from it.

But I remember most of all the nurses taking my bunny rug away, saying I didn't need it and giving it to some other child.

I remember how helpless I felt at the time, being too young to fight them and how unjust it was. I never saw the bunny rug again, but I still recall the losing of it vividly.

Sun Apr 01, 05:27:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Anne, that seemed such a cruel thing to do to me! So unfeeling. It was bad enough taking it away, but giving it some other child was even worse. No wonder you remembered that.

Sun Apr 01, 02:51:00 pm  
Blogger Marly Youmans said...

Gah! Poor Anne! That reminds me of the time Santa Claus read my letter on the radio and asked me to throw away my blankey!

And I did.

Oh, the scald of it all.

Sun Apr 01, 08:04:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating. And thank you for that digest in the linked earlier post. I'm currently preparing a post on perceptions of ageing & there's much food for thought (& thus delay in getting it completed!) here.

Sun Apr 01, 08:31:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marly: Ah, so cruel too. I don't think I'd have trusted the old bearded one again.

Dick: Sounds interesting - shall look forward to reading this. Draaisma has something to say on this too, I was going to shove it at the end of this post but it was growing too long so decided to keep it for later. It's a fascinating book, I thought.

Mon Apr 02, 08:18:00 am  
Blogger Tammy Brierly said...

I've been really concerned at my memory in the last year. Some ALS patients get dementia. Doc said to name 13 animals in one minute :)

Most of my memories are from pictures and stories, not sure anymore what's real memory.

Mon Apr 02, 05:57:00 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

I know exactly what is meant by this "standing apart".
My earliest memory is sitting at a table having breakfast on my 5th Birthday.
I sit by a window which is at the side of our house.
I am thinking: " Today I am 5"
It is my first vivid memory and yes, I "stand apart" from myself and I am watching my self..
It is fascinating to have this " view" of my memory explained at last..

Mon Apr 02, 09:07:00 pm  
Blogger Anne S said...

I had one of those stand apart moments on my first day of school. I was 5 years old and my older brother was given the task of taking me to school. I associate this memory with three wooden posts which were across the entrance to the school and I had the revelation, shortly after passing through the posts, looking around at the other kids, that I was unique, that I was me and not anyone else. It had never occurred to me before.

Tue Apr 03, 12:24:00 am  

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