- Books, Literature, and Writing
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 . . .
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.
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!
What About You?
Do you have early childhood memories?
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.
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?