What's Your Earliest Childhood Memory?

What is Your Earliest Memory?

Can you remember as far back as toddlerhood? Or do your memories begin later in life?

I have clear recollections of childhood starting at two years old. They begin in a brick townhouse rental that was home for my parents and me for about a year. We lived in limbo between New York and New Hampshire while waiting for our new home to be built.

It's interesting to think back to the days when I was no more than three feet tall and clueless about things like gravity and basic physics. And the scary idea of being left alone in the world, even for a moment . . .

My pink pajamas go well with the couch
My pink pajamas go well with the couch | Source

Burnin' Down the House

I'm supposed to be asleep in bed, but the commotion outside makes it impossible to relax.

A growing fire burns across the driveway of this townhouse community. The flames reach toward surrounding pine trees, throwing light toward the night sky. Residents observe from doorways and gather in groups along the road.

I stand on tip-toes to get a good look out my second floor bedroom window. But the fire isn't what worries me. It isn't the swelling flames that capture my attention as my face presses against the cold, damp glass.

I'm trying to get a good look at the doorway below.

Are my mom and dad outside? Because if they are--if they're standing just one step outside and onto the stoop--that means I'm alone in the house.

I can see the dimly-lit door is open. In the shadows I see a foot . . . and a finger pointing toward the blaze. They are definitely inside the doorway. So I'm not alone.

Phew.

I jump back into bed in my pink flannel pajamas, enjoying the blankets' warmth and the faint smell of burning wood.

I asked my father about this scene decades later. I always imagined it was just a dream, but he assured me it was not. His friend Lionel--a man infamous for playing with candle flames, jumping his car over ditches, and crashing his plastic sled on the Alpine Slide--was responsible for the bonfire gone wrong.

"He came across a load of free mulch," my father said. "He thought it would be a great idea to burn it. He lost control of the flames, and the fire department had to come put it out."

The Gritty Dishtowel

There's a door in the kitchen that leads outside. It's propped open so my mother can keep an eye on us as we play in the sandbox out back.

Brian and I are digging roadways for our Tonkas. I look up as a fistful of sand flies into my face. Like most two-year-olds, my mouth is always open. Now my tongue has a thick, crunchy coating.

A quick solution pops into my brain.

Rushing into the kitchen, I wipe the sand from my tongue using the towel that hangs from the oven handle.

Mom stands by the door, watching me lick what was a clean dishtowel.

"What are you doing?"

A quick explanation as I rush out the door: "Brian threw sand in my mouth."

Nothing weird about that.

Leaning out the door, my mother calls to my playmate, ordering him to cool it with the sand-throwing.

"OK!" He answers. Clearly, the fun of hurling dirt into my face had passed. We're already back to the project at hand.

Believe it or not, the tongue-toweling method didn't work. I crunch down on grains still stuck in my teeth. But these roads aren't going to build themselves, so I spit out what I can and ignore the rest.

Your Life in Six Words. Go!

Dad's car. And me.
Dad's car. And me. | Source

What About You?

Do you have early childhood memories?

  • Yes! My memories go way back, just don't ask me what I had for lunch.
  • Yes! I have always had a great memory, and it was chicken salad.
  • No! My memories begin later on in life.
See results without voting

Don't Jump!

We're taking my dad's '69 GTO for a drive to go see our new house that's under construction.

My mother sits in the passenger seat and I'm in the back. I sit forward on the bench seat, holding myself steady by grabbing onto the corner of each front seat.

I tell my mom that something is scratching and hurting my back, so she tells me to take off my denim jacket.

"I didn't think this was going to work," she tells my father. She pulls pins out of a sequined patch attached to the back of my jacket. The image is the profile of a Native American wearing a headdress.

This was the 70s, baby.

We get to the house. The foundation and outer structure are built, but that's it. I don't know what I was expecting, but it looks so strange.

The house is basically in the middle of the woods, surrounded by dense forest and fern-coated grounds. It's more like a campsite with crisp, clean, pine-scented air.

A far cry from my Brooklyn roots.

We go inside the house and my mom and dad walk around, pointing and discussing. I like the clunking sound my shoes make on the bare wood floors.

Moments later, I'm standing at the edge of a big rectangular hole on the main floor where the brick fireplace will go. I look straight down to the concrete floor of the basement below.

My mom and dad are there, talking. I call down to them--look at me!--unaware that a misstep could mean the end.

They look up with wide eyes.

"Don't move!"

I don't remember what happened next. Apparently I didn't move because I'm here to tell about it.

Why These Memories?

Some of my family used to think it meant I was some kind of genius. But unfortunately, my vivid recall never involves solving quadratic equations--or what a quadratic equation even is--or how to spell the word occurring without using spellcheck.

Genius? I don't think that's it.

Wouldn't it be nice (in more ways than one) if we could pick and choose our memories?

More by this Author


Thank you for sharing your memories! 22 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

How bizarre. The article I'm working on now is about memories. :) You do remember way back...my earliest memory is probably age three or four, and they are sketchy at best....but then, I have one hell of a lot more years to bridge than you have. :) Loved this, Lizzy!


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 2 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

We have a telepathy thing going, Billy! Thank you!


Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

I hope all of us get memories of our past and childhood and some people can recollect their memories very lively even those things happened when they were one or two year old babies. My wife used to tell her memories of when she was one and a half year old exactly. But what I remember are of at much later stage like 12 year old memories and there after incidents. One thing very disappointing me is I do not remember my mother's face. She passed away when I was 14 year old.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida

I love the last line, Liz. What a kicker!

My earliest memory is of sitting on the floor in front of the lower kitchen cabinets and banging pots and pans. I couldn't have been more than two.

My next memory took place in Tacoma, Washington. I was 2 1/2 years old. My mom and dad took me to a shopping center where they were holding elephant rides, although I don't remember why. Could have been a fair. All I remember is riding the bejeweled elephant. I had a fascination for them ever since. When I was about 6, I wrote my first book - about elephants, which was basically just page after page of illustrations.

The memories you share are so vivid and, as usual, very well-written.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 2 years ago from Deep South, USA

This is a very interesting hub, Liz. Your childhood recollections are quite visual and sensory, and you communicated them well in your writing. I was able to see and feel the flames and heat of the bonfire grown wrong and taste the gritty sand in my mouth.

Your account also made me think back to my own earliest memories. There are two very strong ones from my second year and quite a few from when I was three years old. Two recollections were of mildly traumatic events, which is probably why they stuck in my memory bank, but another was of my grandfather taking me with him to the community polling center when he voted. It was there I met a girl my own age who became a childhood friend. We sat on a bench together, swinging our legs like little girls do when their feet don't touch the floor, not saying much since we were both shy. But I remember being fascinated that she wore eyeglasses at such a young age.

Other early childhood memories have sensory components, such as the smell of an apple that reminds me vividly of my grandfather sitting on the hearth in front of a wood fire showing me how to peel an apple in one long curling piece. Hearing a few bars of an old hymn brings recall of my mother playing it on the piano while she sang in her lovely soprano.

Thanks for awakening my early memories this morning.

Voted Up+++ and shared

Jaye


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 2 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Venkatachari M, that's amazing your wife can remember so far back. I'm sorry you can't remember your mother's face. My mother died when I was 11, but I have a clear memory of her face. Thank you for sharing!


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 2 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Sha, I remember my little sister sitting on the floor and banging those pots and pans! That memory of riding an elephant is so cool. It must have been quite an emotional experience, being a child so young. I love that you later wrote a book about elephants. The true stories of their incredible memories are fascinating. Thank you so much!


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 2 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Jaye, I love the memories that seem to bring loved ones back into your presence. And the two of you sitting on the bench at the polling center must have been so cute! I also have clear memories of traumatic events--to be honest, I wish I could replace them with happy memories that have slipped my mind. Thank you, Jae!


Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

Yes, Radcliff. It is very pinching for not remembering her. Even no photos of my parents. But father's face is very clear to me who expired when I was 19. Some other incidents, I remember like thatched class rooms in my elementary school, stealing mangoes by climbing walls with friends from backside boundary walls of our school and the gardener shouting at us when I was in 5th or 6th class.


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 2 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

How sad you don't have photos! I like the thatched classrooms and mangoes memories--it sounds like a scene from a movie from an American perspective :) Thank you again, Venkatachari!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 2 years ago from United States

What a strongly written narrative! Beautifully done. Engaging, meaningful. Polished. Wow!


sallybea profile image

sallybea 2 years ago from Norfolk

Radcliff

My early childhood memories are imprinted on my brain and it only takes one hub to bring those memories flooding back - but today I have had two to read, yours and Billy's. This ones serves to remind me that it is high time that I put my own memories down onto paper - one day soon - I very much enjoyed reading about yours - thank you.

Sally


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States

I have often wondered what makes those earliest memories stick. It can be hard to pinpoint a memory. But if it can be pinpointed in time, like the fire that you saw - a specific time and place. I read somewhere that real memories, as opposed to "remembering" from photos or family stories, usually have sensory components and not just a mental picture. I loved reading this!


travmaj profile image

travmaj 2 years ago from australia

Yes to picking and choosing our memories. So much happened and is out of recall. Others blend together.

My earliest memory - I'm two - sitting in a stroller, outside our home, holding a bunch of wild flowers my sister and I had picked for my mother. Billy, my little friend grabbed my flowers and stamped on them. Much howling.

There are few photo's of my childhood, an era where photo's were taken only on special occasions, holidays etc. I wonder if today with photography every moment, every day, means memories are recorded and therefore more memorable. Thanks Radcliff - I'm thinking, thinking...


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

Hiya, yes I do remember so much, in fact my earliest memories have to be in the push chair with my mum pushing me, must have been about two, and the earlier one was sitting on the table with my mum doing up my baby shoes! wow! lol!


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

I think my earliest memory was playing Lone Ranger action figures with my next door neighbor David when I was three. I was just in Albuquerque yesterday, showing my wife a house I lived in when I was 8 that I still remembered how to get to. I pointed out the place around the corner where I crashed my sister's bike into a cactus. I really think childhood memories are more reliable than adult ones. Great hub'


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 2 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Thank you, Jill!


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 2 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Thank you, Sally. Over the past several months I've been reading up on memoir and personal essays. I really enjoy writing them. I know you will, too! I'm looking forward to reading some of your memories!


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 2 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

That makes sense, Dolores. Those kinds of memories leave imprints on other parts of your brain as well, I imagine. Thank you so much!


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 2 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

That's an interesting thought, travmaj! I take pictures of my little ones all the time, so it will be interesting to see if they remember much of what they see in those pictures. What a meanie that little Billy was! Hahah! Thanks for your thoughtful comment.


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 2 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Hi, Nell! Yes, those memories are fascinating as you remember them from the perspective of someone much smaller and lacking life experience. Thanks for stopping by!


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 2 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

I agree, Mel! It's like those memories have had more time to settle in there. That's incredible that you were able to find your old house. What memories that visit must have brought back! Thank you.

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