Me? I collect first memories.
First memories can be intriguing, mystical and prophetic.
There was a time in my not-to-distant past when I was seriously considering writing a book of first memories – I would carry my ragged note-pad with me everywhere and ask just about everyone I met about their first memory. Some of them were tragic, but most were happy, confusing or funny. The first comment I usually faced was – ‘Hmm, I’ve never really thought about that before. Give me a second.’
Unfortunately life and other writing commitments got in the way and my list of first memories was locked in a filing cabinet somewhere between ‘dreams’ and ‘unfinished novels’.
When I began to investigate first memories I thought something weird was going on with my ridiculously vivid imagination. I tried to remain as subjective as possible but after a while I found about three-quarters of the first memories of the 300 people I interviewed seemed to correlate to either their employment, (or lack of) or their lifestyle.
Before I continue, the question I ask is, ‘What is the very first thing you remember in life? The very first memory – like the first time you realised your eyes were open and you woke up to life.’
The examples I’ve put below relate to memories people had between the ages of 2-4, except the last one about the baby in the cot (which is my favourite). After the quote I’ve put their occupation/lifestyle choice/or anything I thought relevant to the memory –
“I woke up and didn’t know where I was. I was in a dark house and ran down some stairs into a sitting room. I ran straight into a television set and was knocked backwards onto the floor. My mother jumped up and grabbed me. I had a huge lump on my forehead and I remember the blood dripping all over the white carpet. I just kept screaming, ‘My head, my head!’- worried about the lump and how my mother was going to clean up the blood.” Doctor/ brain tumour survivor
“It was Christmas and my older sister got a beautiful doll with blonde hair, a pink dress and sparkling pink shoes. I really wanted it! I tried to grab it and she wouldn’t let me have it. I started screaming and my mother slapped my face and told me to open my own presents, but I didn’t want them – I only wanted hers.” Dancer/ female impersonator
“We lived in a corrugated iron hut and I was sitting in a white high chair. Above me there must have been a hole in the roof because a shaft of light was shining in front of me. My mother was sweeping the floor and the dust was drifting though the light like a million tiny diamonds. I was waving my hands through this beautiful light trying to catch the dust angels, but couldn’t.” Legal worker/born again Christian (on a side note – I used this first memory with the permission of the interviewee in my book Let Sleeping Gods Lie)
“It was hot and I was sick and lying on the couch watching television. I could see it was the news and there must have been a fire and there were fire tankers and police cars and in the background an enormous blaze. My mother switched the channels to the cartoons and I remember her saying, ‘We don’t want to see that horrible stuff’, but I did and I wanted her to turn it back, but she wouldn’t.” Fire & rescue worker/personal trainer
“I was in my cot and remember the wonderful feeling of rubbing my poo on the walls. My father came in and shouted and I didn’t know what was wrong. I felt really worried and frightened because he was so angry and I was having such a great time. I lifted my arms up to him, but he wouldn’t pick me up and that made me feel really sad.” Freelance artist
“We lived in a high-rise with a balcony. Someone must have left the balcony door open because the first thing I remember is the change in texture on my knees and hands from soft carpet to hard tiles. I crawled to a metal railing and tried to climb it to get a better look at the city below. All I could think of was how beautiful and small everything looked from there and I remember the feeling of my hair moving with the breeze.” Commercial airline pilot
“My uncle was everything to me. I remember him as my first memory. He was leaning over my face and clapping his hands and saying a rhyme, “As I was going to Saint Ives, I met a man with seven wives. Every wife has seven sacks, every sack had seven cats.” I wanted to clap my hands as well, but they kept missing each other, but I didn’t care because his face was so kind and his words so mystical, like waves.” Accountant
“I was jumping on my parent’s bed. I felt so free, and then my grandmother walked in and was furious. I remember her grabbing my arm and telling me the quilt was new and that money doesn’t grow on trees. She said I had to do work around the house to pay for it.” Currently unemployed (but has worked odd jobs as handyman, cleaner, warehouse box unpacker)
“I was jolted awake. I was in a pram. I heard a woman yell and then I saw my father’s back as he ran in front of the pram with his hands stretched out to one side. Two huge paws and a black dog’s face appeared at the side of the pram. For some reason it didn’t scare me and I wanted to touch it, but my father yelled and his fist punched at its nose and it yelped. I started to cry and could hear an argument between my parents and the person that must have owned the dog.” Vet/animal activist
As I said at the beginning of this post, about three-quarters of the first memories I have collected from people have some kind of connection to their employment or lifestyle. Having said that, there were some mighty interesting ones I didn’t think correlated with employment and I’ve put my top two favourites below.
“I saw some men carrying my mother into a river. They got to the middle of the river and then lifted her into the air. They were all singing and I was watching from behind a fence. Then they dropped her and pushed her head under the water and held her there. I knew they were drowning her, but I ran away. I ran as far as I could and I hid in a hole in the bottom of an old tree. I’ve carried the guilt that I didn’t save my mother all my life. I didn’t know at the time that she was a missionary and was being baptised. She’ll be turning 80 next year and I still don’t know what to buy her for her birthday.” Electrician/atheist
“I was floating outside a window and looking in through the glass. It was dark outside and I could see a tiny baby lying in a cot in the room. I knew the baby was me. The low light from a lamp cast a beautiful glow across the room above the baby, but I still wasn’t sure if I was ready to go in. I just hung out there for a while watching (for what seemed like ages). I saw a woman walk into the room and lean over the cot. As soon as I saw the woman I knew I loved her and it was time to go into the room.” University student
After a while I became worried about my first memory. Was my life to become the first thing I remembered? My first memory has nothing to do with being a writer and it’s, let’s say – a little embarrassing…
“I was sick and had been confined to my room, but I wanted to play with the kids across the street. I climbed out the window and started to run, but as I got half way across the road I realised I wasn’t wearing any underpants. I panicked and ran back to my house and climbed back through the window.”
Does this mean I’ll be forever forgetting my undies? I haven’t so far! When I told my daughter about this memory she said, “Maybe that’s your first and last memory – forgetting your undies when you’re old!” – she’s always been very quick-witted.
But I must admit I do have a habit of running away when I think I’m in trouble or if I’m stressed. When my father died, I came home from the hospital, put on my runners and just ran until I was completely exhausted! Looking back on my life, running has been my way of trying to rid my mind of stress.
How about your first memory? Do you think it correlates in any way to your occupation or any other parts of your life?