Today’s post is inspired by this bloghop prompt: Write about your earliest memories.
Emily at the waiting spends all the livelong day in tasks large and small relating to the health and wellbeing of her precious tot Cee. One day, when Cee is an accomplished young lady, will she remember the times when her Mama cut her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just so, the days when Cee climbed the slide and went down over and over, or any of the other daily routines that once made up her teeny tiny world? It would seem only fitting that the child be able to recall something of those most important years during which Emily will have worked harder than she has ever worked before.
In her blog hop prompt Emily referred to the term “childhood amnesia”, meaning the inability of many adults to access early memories. I don’t really like that term. To me it sounds as though someone took our babies over to some Scientology place and vacuumed out their brains. Whatever this amnesia may be, do mothers really need one more unfair situation to contend with, after all the parenting challenges we already face?
It seems as though mothers are saddled with the knowledge that although we guide our children through every single day of their formative years, that most of that fun and laughter will live on only in our own minds. In the end, some number of former children will just have to take our word that their younger days were filled with all the magic we grownups were able to summon. But take heart, mothers; not every child reaches maturity with no remembrances of their younger days. Take me, for example.
From the time of my birth until the time I was and two and a half, I lived with my parents and older brother in a small house in East Memphis. It was my parents’ first house. In a marriage typical of the 1950s, my father went to work each day in the only car while my mother kept the house and the children. In the afternoons we napped and our mother polished our white leather shoes and bleached the shoestrings a pristine white. I don’t remember my father at that house, but that is not a criticism; I believe that like many fathers of his day, he left the hands- on work of parenting to my mother.
My memories from that house come to me in snippets. They don’t make a complete narrative, but here they are, in no particular order: My Mother had beautiful, intriguing hat boxes in her bedroom. Inside each box was a delightful, colorful array of feathers and textures. I don’t know if I knew they were hats. I coveted them but they were off limits to me. I recall seeing the large figure of our maid, Lucinda, blocking my way to the desired stack of round boxes. Our house was on a small hill that seemed giant from my viewpoint.The thought of traversing the hill filled me with terror. How would my short legs get me up or down that steep driveway? I remember lying on the floor in the morning, giggling in the galley kitchen while my mother pretended she didn’t see me. “What’s that on the floor?” she asked as she poked me gently with her bare foot which was attached to a slender, shapely leg.
In the afternoons my mother would close the brown wooden shutters in the combination living room and dining room to signal that it was nap time. I would watch as with each closing louver the sun went out in the room.I didn’t mind seeing the sunlight fade, but I did mind the idea of a nap. Finally, I recall sitting perched on our living room couch that was piled so high with things that there was barely room for me, listening to a recording of “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”. I believe that was the day we were moving to our new house.
For each of these vignettes I have a corresponding feeling of “rightness” in my body, a knowing that I was there. Here are other facts that I have been told but do not remember: that my brother and I rose early one morning, leaving a trail of bread crumbs for my mother to find us, and she followed them, locating us us around the block on someone else’s swing set. That must have been my brother’s idea. Another of his ideas was to wash my hair with Elmer’s glue. My mother told me we played out in the backyard every morning, and that each afternoon all the mothers and children gathered to play in someone’s fenced back yard, but I don’t remember that either. I wish I could.
Now there is no one alive to verify or add to those early experiences, unless my brother remembers things I don’t. I am left with only my memories and my own truth to connect me to the time in my life when I was learning to navigate the world and myself. My memories are few, but the way they resonate in my body tells me I was the center of my parents’ world. That awareness seems to me to be the most sustaining memory of all.
I take such comfort in being able to remember even a little from such an innocent time of life when my parents were so young and vibrant. They were still in their 20s, and they thought they had the world by the tail. It was the height of my parents’ physical and emotional intimacy with me. My parents were fallible, but I had no knowledge of that as yet. I’m not sure if they knew it yet either. It was not until later that I would see their imperfections and learn the important life lessons of acceptance and cooperation.
No one grows to adulthood without some wounds or disappointments. Though as parents we know this intellectually, we hope life will be smooth for our children. We do all we can to pave the way, and tend to let go only reluctantly, often only after our fingers have been forcefully removed from whatever corner of control we believed we had. Maybe it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.
For those of us who have become parents and devoted our best efforts to our children, perhaps we can console ourselves with the idea that later in their lives, our children might retain some grain of remembrance of what to us was our most significant life’s achievement. If they can only remember one Christmas tree, one trip to the zoo or one sunny afternoon in the front yard, we hope that it contains the knowledge that they were loved and cherished beyond compare. And for those who have no specific recollections, let us hope that all of our hard work has crystallized inside our children’s beings as a preverbal sense that trustworthy adults were on the scene when they were needed the most. If our children can internalize, consciously or unconsciously, the love laced into each daily interaction, no matter how mundane, we can rest assured we will live on in their hearts.
There are so many quotable passages in this that if I were reading it in a book instead of my computer, it would look like Cece thought it was a coloring book. I love what you said about the knowledge that one happy memory remained means that our kids’ whole lives were populated with love. I love your entire family and it’s always such a joy to see glimpses of your histories before I knew you. xoxox
Thanks dear! I have lots of later- but-still-young-memories as well, but I went with the earliest ones in keeping with the prompt. This was a thought provoking topic, so my thanks to you and are you finished yet for suggesting it!`
Reblogged this on GreenFloss and commented:
I’ve lost a lot of my childhood memories, at least in a cohesive form. It’s like pieces of a mosaic that are just lying around on a table, not formed into any form. The ice storm in Charleston, or the hurricane where I tied my prized Teddy to the legs of the little table in my room to keep him safe. The bees chasing my PB&J at lunch at Pinewood Elementary. Watching Kennedy’s funeral with my Teddy wearing Dad’s medals, solemn as Emperor Haile Selassie. Leaving Tallehassee in as a hurricane hit, with a violently ill cat in a makeshift laundry hamper carrier.
They are beads from a necklace long since broken and scattered, with the vignettes of these pieces all that remain. It’s like a mental archeology, trying to figure out what life looked like then, even what is true and what isn’t. How do you determine the significance of what you have when there is so little evidence to go on? Is something significant because you remember it, or is it only one of a number of other events that were all like it? Was it remembered because it was the lone good, or the lone bad? How do you decide how the pieces fit together when you don’t know what the image looks like? Mindfulmagpie talks about the truth of being the center of her parents world; I wish I could have a rememberence of that type of truth. Truth is, what I remember are summer days by myself, riding endlessly because there was no one to play with….or was it that no one who would play?
And I wonder what my daughter will remember that I don’t, will find significant that would surprise me. Occassionally she will text me a line, and I’ll go check and it’ll indeed turn out to be from one of the songs we used to play from a 3 CD set from the 60’s. Does she remember me singing to her at bed time? I had forgotten that one until I heard the old hymn in church one day and the memory of those nights returned. Does she remember our writting sessions in our journals, the origins of which eventually led me to blogging?
Time, memory, signficance. All linked, none known.
Stirred enough in me that I’m reblogging on mine
Why thank you so much Jeff! I don’t think anyone has ever reblogged a post of mine before. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
I am so glad that you have these memories but even more glad that you are writing about them with such eloquence and sharing them. I know you have more memories and I hope you will share those as well. As I have told you before, I am sad that I have virtually no memories before I was about five years old. Recently I saw a photograph of myself sitting in my mother’s lap in front of my birthday cake with a single candle on top. I tried to search deep into my mind to see if there was a memory there but none came. But at least now I have the image of that photo in my mind and maybe one day it will spark some other memory.
Yes, maybe something will come to you. But also you can ask your siblings what they remember!
I am very late in commenting on this post because it moved me so much, and I didn’t even feel equal to the task of expressing myself about it. But please know that all that work you did for us is so treasured and remembered, from designs for breakfast to singing “Baby, You Can Ride My Car” and all the way up through the present. I think kids with great parents don’t really realize how lucky they are until they grow up and learn about other people’s parents. I remember having this epiphany at about 18. Even though I didn’t know back then when you were pushing us in our double stroller, you were and are the world’s most awesome mom, and I am proud to be your daughter. I love you!
And what precious little baby you are, and about to begin the journey yourself. I’m so glad you and Eric know how to treasure each moment, because all too soon you will be wishing for just one more glimpse of baby Bellm at every stage! Love you millions!