Health Care and the Department of Lost Causes

Earliest Memories

My brother and I lived together as children for only about nine years. I was five-and-a-half when he was born and moved to California when I was 15 and he was nine.

In the year since I moved to Oregon where he has lived all his life, we have sometimes played the “Do you remember game. Most of the time, when he recalls something from our shared childhood, I respond, “Really?!? I don't remember that.”

That's probably not unusual. Memory is a slippery thing, which is why eye witness accounts in crimes are suspect, and individual interest, emotion and attention probably have some affect on how well we recall events.

Carole Peterson, a psychology professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, has been studying early childhood memory. Although it has been widely believed that children under the age of three or four do not have the cognitive or language skills to form, the professor now thinks otherwise.

Peterson and her team enlisted 140 children age four to 13. The kids were asked to recall their three earliest memories. Parents confirmed the memories. Then, two years later, the children were asked the same question.

”Kids ages 4 to 7 at the study's start tended to recall different memories at the first interview compared with two years later, suggesting these very early memories are fragile and can easily fade away. However, a third of the children ages 10 to 13 described the same earliest memories at both time points...

“In addition, for kids who didn't describe one of the previously mentioned memories at the two-year mark, the researchers described the kid's own summary of that memory. For the older kids, that was enough to jog their memory and they immediately recalled the event.

“But in the 4- to 7-year-old age group, the children said that had never happened in their lives.”

Nothing in this study, says Professor Peterson, suggests that content or emotional impact affect whether an early memory is retained or lost and next, she will tackle the question of what makes some memories stick and not others.

The whole reason for telling you about that study is ask what your earliest memory is.

In my case, it is body memory. I can close my eyes and recall how it felt to hold myself upright by the side of my crib and the taste of the varnish on the top of the railing. So maybe I chewed on it when I was teething. Not having raised children, I don't know at what age a kid moves from a crib to a bed, so it's hard to know my age at that memory but, probably, before I was three.

Now it's your turn.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: A Love Story – Part Two


During WW2, I guess I was about 3 or 4, my divorced mother was working in a defense plant in another city, and I was living with her parents. My grandfather was ill and confined to bed (he was dying, although I was not aware of that). He was a boxing fan, and a big bout on the radio - especially a title fight - was a must for him. My earliest memory is listening to boxing on the radio with him in total darkness. We had to keep the lights off, and the radio dial covered up, because there were frequent blackouts, and the air raid wardens patrolling the neighborhood would squawk about any light they could see from the street.

My father passed away before I was three. I remember him holding me in his arms on what was probably the Halloween before that. I also remember being left in the car when he was buried and being told he was on a trip. I knew even then it was no trip and he wasn't coming back. They were trying to protect me but children are more observant than most people think and it leaves you alone to deal with whatever has happened. More important, children know they are being lied to and it destroys some of the trust in the people who should be covering your back.

I distinctly remember being carried by my father up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and seeing the statue. And in spite of that I am a life-long Democrat.

My earliest memories are sense memories: the scent of my father's summer seersucker short sleeve shirt; being picked up by my mother's strong arms.

I do remember the first TV I saw: blinking gray images from the royal coronation in 1952. I was 5.

I've recently become convinced from pop-psych lit that I am a person with what they call "overgeneral memories." I construct patterns out of fragments rather than retain specific images. The pop-psych people say this correlates with depression; I find it useful to an historically oriented mindset.

@TwinCityJoan: Thanks for telling your story. This is NOT a kindness to a child! My partner's mother grew up with the same sort of falsehood told her about her mother who died in a fire when she was two. They didn't tell her the truth until she was eleven, though she said she knew. I think this left her with anxieties about truth all her life. I hope this is not the case for you.

Wow, I haven't thought about this in a long time. I don't know if what I have now is an actual memory, or just the memory of what once was an actual's of broken windows in a garage door. I recognized them when I passed them as a child, and I placed the recognition as the windows being something I saw when my mother used to wheel my around in my buggy.

Oh I'm so glad others have memories at a very young age. I distinctly remember our sidewalks being torn up and replaced (lots of noise and equipment). To the day she died, everytime I told that story, my mom would just smile and shake her head. "You were much too young to remember that, it happened when you were 3 and still in your crib!"

I remember the little neighborhood boy feeding me a spoonful of turpentine--I remember the burn and my father giving me milk to drink as an antidote: I was two. About the same time, my mother had a stillborn son and I remember being left at home with a babysitter--almost unheard of in those days.

Lost And Abandoned

The glass walls loomed above him into the sky. There was a funny kind of door there and a little shelf up there too, with a shiny black thing and a coil of cord connected to it.
He had already been down the hill past the houses across the street, where Suzy lived with her doll and little dog and her mom and her dad. Downhill was the way to the bus stop.
But no one had ever taken him uphill to the next street. But now here he was with the great glass walls and the black thing
Suddenly he felt strange, lost. He wanted a drink. He started walking down the sidewalk from the way he had come. Everything looked so different from up here.
He saw his back door, with the screen on it. He tried to go in, but it wouldn't open, no matter how hard he pulled.
"Let me in….let me in," he pleaded. Now he had to pee. "Please, Bonnie, Robbie, let me in!"
He started crying and his voice rose and started to sound squeeky.
"Let me in!" he shouted as loud as he could, sobbing and gasping, losing his breath.
Later at dinner, he didn't understand why they all thought it was so funny when the kids found him up at the corner where the phone booth was, red faced, furiously pounding on the next-door neighbor's screen door.

@Steve Kemp, disturbingly wonderful capture of your young memory. Great writing.

I recalling being left on the potty while Mom was tending to the new baby. I would have been 2, 2 1/2. Bored, I peeled wallpaper off and painted my face with Mom's red lipstick. Don't recall any serious repercussions.

I remember looking down on my father and being frightened. He had thrown me up in the air and I was afraid he wouldn't catch me. This is a fragment of a memory as I only remember that one flash and have no memory of being thrown up or caught. I must have been very young; perhaps an infant. He left when I was three so it had to be long before that.

I was two and standing in front of a bookcase in the living room and saying "booka" and then I took out a large book with colorful flags to look at. It was as though I "became me" at that moment. Like a fade in sequence in a movie. After that I have memory of all kinds of events, large and small. But not before.

I used to suck my thumb. My earliest memory is of pouring the bottle of "Thum" (a liquid with a bad taste that my mother would paint on my fingers to keep me from sucking on them) into the garbage can in the alley behind our apartment building. I think I was about 4 or 5.

I remember being on my mothers shoulder as she rocked me. It was in the living room of the house I grew up in. The room was dark but I could make out images. Must have been age one or younger.

I was 2 1/2. I remember my brother's birth. In those days sibs couldn't visit in the hospital. I remember seeing a person holding a white shape up in a window of what must have been the hospital so I could see the baby. Subsequently, all during childhood I resented him, both for displacing me and for being a favored SON, younger but, by virtue of gender, more privileged. Poor kid. I made his life a bit miserable at times. Today we are devoted to one another, having grown up and re-bonded as caregivers for our mother until she died, both of us at her side.

An uncle of mine finished med school in 1941 and went off to the war as a Navy doctor. I first met him when he came back. He was in uniform, all dressed in white, including his shoes, when I first saw him, and I have a clear memory of gazing up in wonder at this tall white column of a man. I was about two at the time.

During WWII, My mother took me aged 2 from the peaceful Somerset countryside to Deptford in London, where the Docks were - hence the bombing. Between then and until late 1944, I have vivid memories most of them sad:

My own little gas mask; contracting diphtheria in an air raid shelter and going to hospital with a red blanket tucked round me; waking up at night, crying, climbing out of my cot (crib) when no-one came and finding the bedroom door locked (my mother had gone out); helping her peg out washing, bending down to get a peg and cutting my forehead on a 3-wheel metal tricyle.

But let me end on a happy note: my first Christmas memory, probably aged 3, dressed in a red siren suit and merrily playing on a xylophone I'd had from Santa.

Hard to believe this was 66 years ago and how vivid still are the memories

Earliest were of mother fitting bunk beds into my room, and two people I didn't know moving in. It was WWII, and my two young cousins had been sent to live with us for the duration. Later at age 4, I remember being shut up in the very dark, hot, living room with the measles, and seeing my trike and my friend Buick outside in the bright sunshine where I couldn't go. I didn't understand.

I remember my mother telling me I had a new baby brother. I was 2. I replied that I really wanted a rocking chair.

I remember standing in my crib, looking out the window. The trees were greening up in the spring. I had to have been no more than 15 months old. The next memory I have is of me hiding under the piano when some woman came to visit. I knew she would want to kiss me, and I didn't want her to.

P.S. I was about 3 when I had that last memory.

One earliest memory for me. And It must have been as a baby. I can remember the taste and sensation of sucking on what was then called a "sugar teat". I guess babies were given this to sooth colic or teething pains.

The taste was of sugar and a taste of whiskey wrapped in a small piece of white cloth.

And another early memory from about 2 or 3 years old was my big brother holding me high up on his broad shoulders so I could see a fireworks exhibition.

Oh Lee
I got such a belly laugh at your reaction to the new baby brother. :)

It makes me sad to read all these memories and not have really early ones too. I do have a particularly good memory in that everyone will check with me on what happened when and what was said by whom but as for my own history .. nope.
My father was away for almost 3 yrs, in WW11 serving in the Pacific theater as a doctor. I was born the month after he left. There was my older sister by almost 6 yrs. and my brother who was almost 3 yrs. older. After his return I developed a sweet attachment to him but never felt really close to either parent.
My husband remembers all sorts of things from the earliest time with terrific details. Since he was in a military family and travelled all over, he recalls all sorts of things in Europe right after the war. Since his step father was a colonel, he and his mother got to go too when he was stationed in France after peace was won.
Ah well.

I really can't remember anything of my childhood. I guess there is something the matter with me,or maybe I was so happy I didn't care to think about things.

Born in summer of "40"...Dad was a flight instructor WW11. Remember the smell & creaking noise made by his leather uniform jacket when he left for war service. Also remember thinking "this is your life, keep your eyes open" one day as he was backing car out of the driveway. 3 or 4 years old.

I have a headful of memories. First one was in my pram or stroller being pushed about 6 miles to visit grandparents (no gas after the war). When my father took his turn he got bitten by a bee and started to howl. When I brought this memory up with them when I was about 16, they were flabbergasted. I was just over a year old.

When I was 3 years old, my father got TB. I remember visiting him at the sanitarium, and later the nurse coming to the house and making my dad pull down his pajama bottoms so she could give him a shot in the butt. I liked to watch the nurse give my dad the needle, b/c I thought it was funny!

Fortunately he survived, and lived for another 50 years, dying in 2002 at age 91.

My earliest memory was when I was about 18 months old, and I had the whooping cough. My Dad came in the room and picked me up out of the crib. I must have had trouble breathing because he took me by one hand and one foot and turned in circles, whirling me around him in the air. I guess he, being an old West Virgina man, thought that was the way to help a baby catch their breath when they were in difficulty. It must have worked -- I'm here today to tell you of it.

My Grandma, his mother, was an old moutain herb woman and had some really strange, but as I recall quite effective cures for things. I expect that's who he got it from.

I have very few really early memories. But I do remember - and I could not have been more than four and a half, nor less than 18 months, because of the house this was at - I remember playing in our little dead-end street, with its tar pavement, in the summer. I remember that I used to love the smell of the pavement in the heat, but I can no longer remember the smell, but I do remember poking the bubbles that formed in it with sticks to burst them, or with a cautious fingernail to put a line in them. (I think I must have been cautious from having stuck a finger in once and got burnt? But not too badly, or I'd remember that, surely....)

I do have one earlier memory, from the same house, except I am told that it never happened. It is the sort of thing that might be a fear/worry of a young child also, so that seems more likely.

I was in the back seat of the family car. We're parked in a gravel parking lot. I spot a bird in a tree and It's eyes meet my eyes looked right at me .... it was so black it was blue. I felt drawn in and "mezmorized". I couldn't look away. It was hypnotic! (I've always loved crows, and I think this "first memory" is the reason).

I was 18 months old lying on my mother's bed next to the door. A stranger enters the room, sits on the bed, and my mother tells me this is Daddy. I roll away from him screaming no, no!!
They tell me that within 24 hours I was lying in his arms as he rocked me!

About two, sitting in Clara's lap (my adult second cousin who kept me while my parents worked), snuggled against her apron, being fed homemade buttered biscuits dipped in sweet cafe au lait.

I remember sitting in the bathroom in my Grandparents' house while my Mother fixed my hair. Out back in the flower bed my Grandfather buried a little Boston Terrier named Snooty that had been my Mother's for years. I could see him through the window. My Grandfather died in 1953 so I was younger than 5.

The first very clear memory I have is of driving down the long driveway of the beach house we were staying at. I think I was 3 or 4; that was the start of my lifelong love of the ocean.

Riding up on the rear window ledge in my Parents' car on the way to Grandma'sOregon farm. No seat belts then!

Watching Grandma cut up a fresh hen and seeing an egg with two yolks. Same trip...watching my mom wash out my baby brother's diapers in the sink.... I was about 3 years old.

The year was 1936, My new mother was taking me home from the orphange home where I was adopted. We get on a train to go to my new home just my mother and I. We sit down on the left side of the train. I am 6 months old. A black porter brings a white starched pellow and they place me on it for a soft matress. "Now I remember getting on the train as we approached the seats. The porter being very nice and the softness of the pellow under me." These were body experiences and emotions. I don't remember anything else about the event but for years when ever I saw a box of cream of wheat cereal there is a picture of a black man on the front and he is dressed with the same white coate and always looked like the nice portor that brought me the pellow. My mother confirmed the event and had forgotten it. I have alway had memories from an early age,easly as of 2 years old. I would tell my mother and she would have long forgoten the event. At 76 I still have a very keen memorty on personal events. Unfortuntaly not school study. most of my early memories were just flash and somthing not worth retaining in your mind.

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