Day 2: Your earliest memory.
This is an interesting topic for me to write about, because when I stop and think I realise that my earliest memory is from when I was six and a half years old, and I wonder what has happened to all the bits of life that happened to me before that time. It is a bit disturbing to think that there are so many stories I am told about things I did before six and a half and I have zero recollection of them. Do we really only remember stories about ourselves or do we have actual memories of events?
My earliest memory is of the airport in Bombay. How strange. We were en route to Australia as 'Ten Pound Poms'. I have no memory of good-byes at the airport, no recollection of the time on the plane. But I do remember glass cabinets displaying rare and exotic goods at Bombay airport. I remember the bright silks covering curly-toed slippers. I can see in my mind the sparkling beady jewels that bedecked them. I recall clearly the dolls on wooden stands that were dressed in saris and had plaited black hair and eyeliner painted on their tight white fabric faces. I had one of those dolls when I was a child. I can only think it was bought for me in Bombay airport. I wonder if I put on a turn to get it. I don't recall. I have no memory of people or faces or anything other than those bright silk slippers and the dolls.Not even the travel-strained faces of my young parents. So brave they were to travel half way around the world with two young children. So much I must have missed. These things I remember were obviously important in my six year old mind.
Sometimes I think I have a memory of visiting the Cutty Sark in England before we left. It is a vague knowing rather than a memory. Again it hinges on things for sale; some cream-tinged-with-brown pottery replicas of the ship and of sailors of yore wrestling with kegs perpetually petrified and waiting to grace the shelves of visitors' homes. I sense a memory of a dusky darkness and being in a tunnel or underground place. I should like to go there one day to see if my memory fits - to see if it's a real memory. Perhaps it would not be possible, simply because things would have changed too much to know.
Scents, smells, odours, fragrances, all can evoke a sense of a memory but I'm not sure if something so ethereal can really count either. I have the sense of knowing the sweet smell of the bedrooms upstairs at my grandparents house, also back in England before we left. But it is more a vague knowing than a memory somehow. I think I can remember the crisp whiteness of pillowcases filled with goodies on Christmas morning. There they were on the end of the beds; one for my brother and one for me. We were allowed to open the parcels inside because it bought mum and dad a bit of time before the day had to begin. But is that a story I've been told or a real memory? I don't know.
I've seen photos of myself with friends and in my school uniform back in the UK...but they evoke no memories. I know it is me in the pictures but there is no recall. Where are those memories now. Surely they must be sitting deeply buried in my brain...somewhere. Another almost memory is one of cooking bread dough in teacups...lots of them on a tray...so it must have happened at school...
The plane we travelled on from England had to stop overnight in Singapore for some sort of maintenance. I remember looking out of the window of the bus taking us to our accommodation and seeing shanties built of tin, haphazard along the side of the road, close by. And men carrying long knives or machetes. Then the colours of the hotel where we spent the night. Coral and spearmint green walls. I copied those colours onto a papier mache bowl I made at school here in Australia some years later. I remembered those colours so well. And I remember the swooping rattan ceiling fan as it pretended to cool us as we slept.
I wonder if the experience (I am reluctant to call it trauma) of leaving the place I knew as home and the grandparents who doted on me...and the people I knew (I know there were friends because mum talked about them even after we left England) was the thing that trapped my memories in the 'before'. I wonder if the stark contrasts to home that I saw in Bombay and Singapore somehow flooded my mind with so much information that it pushed the old memories out, or squeezed them into a corner so tiny as to make them unreachable.
So many questions I have and I need to ask them soon while I still have people who can answer them for me, or at least give me their version of the memories I would be searching for. I wonder if other people have this experience too? I wonder about the memories my own children hold of their early years. How many of the things that gave me so much joy and on occasion despair...I wonder how many of those things are memories for them. I'm glad I took a lot of photos so that I can sit with them and talk with them about those early days, in case they don't remember. It's important to have stories of what went before. They help us connect to others, help us to learn and to grow. They show us how far we've come in the world.
What's your earliest memory? And is an earliest memory a sense of a smell or a feeling...or does it need to be an event or experience with more detail to make it a real memory? What do you think? What is your experience?
Cheers for now