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August 3, 2012 / diannegray


Some people collect coins or dolls or butterflies and others collect recipe books or movie memorabilia.

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?


Leave a Comment
  1. Sheila Morris / Aug 3 2012 10:37 pm

    Amazing…I will worry about this all day now…see what you did? Warmest wishes, Sheila


    • diannegray / Aug 3 2012 10:43 pm

      Oh no – don’t worry. It is a bit hard though when you’re asked the question, it really makes you think : )


      • Sheila Morris / Aug 3 2012 10:47 pm

        Easy for you to say – too late…it’s all right, though…I am evidently quite fond of worrying…;)


  2. bulldogsturf / Aug 3 2012 11:45 pm

    Being given a dog by my father, I was a very small boy and it is so many years ago I want to forget it… but that is the first memory I recall…. and somehow I love animals to the furthest extent, and always have… but as a Land Surveyor I’m sure it has nothing to do with my employment, or subsequent career…


    • diannegray / Aug 3 2012 11:57 pm

      That’s a nice memory 🙂 Thanks for sharing

      PS – the pics of the birds are sensational


  3. Anna Scott Graham / Aug 4 2012 12:24 am

    What a beautiful, intriguing post! I have two; playing with a dress-up doll in my rather messy closet, then sitting in a dip in the yard, cold water from the swamp cooler running over my toes; I think I was around five years old.

    Thanks for stopping at my blog; I hope you enjoy the posts. And all the best with the writing; it always warms my soul to hear from other authors!


    • diannegray / Aug 4 2012 12:37 pm

      Thank you, Anna! And thank you for sharing your first memories 🙂
      We’re very similar – publishing with Smashwords and LULU!

      I’ll have to drop in and take a look at your books 🙂


      • Anna Scott Graham / Aug 4 2012 11:54 pm

        I will do the same!


  4. Jacqui Murray / Aug 4 2012 1:50 am

    Love that program that lets you put thought bubbles on pictures (although I’ve forgotten the name).


    • diannegray / Aug 4 2012 12:52 pm

      I just used ‘Paint’. It’s amazing what you can do with it! I looked everywhere for a merry-go-round including babies and thought bubbles, but just gave up in the end and decided to do my own thing 🙂


  5. Bonnie at {PaperKeeper} / Aug 4 2012 3:56 am

    Ok, this is going into my hopper for today, along with a few other ‘big thoughts’ – I am having a hard time identifying a true memory vs. one that has been recounted over and over…I can’t seem to put them in order. I am going to let things ‘swirl’ if you will, a bit 🙂 I don’t think tho…that my first memory has anything to do with my employment, but I am fairly certain it ties in with a big part of my life. Great post today…!


    • diannegray / Aug 4 2012 1:06 pm

      Thanks, Bonnie. You really have to dig deep to find that first memory! It’s also a great way to start writing your life story ;D


  6. ocdreader / Aug 4 2012 11:31 am

    I think this is the earliest – I was bored so I was standing in my crib peeling wallpaper. There were cartoon elephants on it, which I liked, but it was very satisfying getting the edge and pulling a large sheet. I still like to “meditate” by doing detail work. 🙂


    • diannegray / Aug 4 2012 1:16 pm

      That’s really nice, Elisa. I can see it now, what a great feeling it would have been!

      I’m wondering also if you still like to peel things away to get to the truth 😉


      • ocdreader / Aug 4 2012 1:32 pm

        I never thought of it that way! Totally – I LOVE figuring things out, peeling back the onion skins to find out what is inside…you are so smart!


  7. resmyt / Aug 4 2012 11:10 pm

    What a facinating thing to think about – our earliest memory. These past few months, I have been realising that I know nothing about my parents life or their parents other than what has happened in my life time. Uncovering and preserving the past makes us realise so much more of who we are. And that includes our first memory. All I remember was the dress I wore for my 4th birthday. It was too big for me, the sleeves all scrunched up at the wrists and the hem reaching below my calves. It was peach, checked with black pin stripes. But most of all was the fact it was infernally hot when I was wearing it and that my neck chafed with the rough material. I just wanted to get out of it. 🙂

    Your blog is really interesting, with so many interesting new angles about writing – choosing a cover, discovering how people’s occupations are linked to their first memories, a list showing how varied each of your books are…Looking forward to more such nuggets. Good luck with your new book, The Eleventh Question. Thank you for stopping by and liking my review on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.


    • diannegray / Aug 5 2012 8:45 am

      Thank you so much for reading my blog:)

      You are so right about not knowing about our families past. I often wish our parents and grandparents had written their life stories (including their first memories) so we could understand their lives and loves and disappointments. I have cornered most of my elderly relatives to record their lives and even they don’t know much about their predecessors (apart from the major details about marriages, deaths and births). When people talk to me about writing I suggest they write their life stories starting at their first memory. I’m usually faced with “I can’t write”. But you don’t need to be a writer to pen your life story and on one needs to read it until after you’re long gone. I’ve started mine and it will never be published (in my lifetime) so my grandchildren (if I have any!) and great-grandchildren understand what I did in my life and I become ‘real’ to them.

      I really like your first memory – I can visualise it and feel the discomfort you felt just reading it!

      I’m really looking forward to reading more of your blog:)


  8. sophypoo77 / Aug 5 2012 6:16 am

    Love this post so much!! I will have to think about my earliest memory now!


    • diannegray / Aug 5 2012 8:50 am

      Thank you, Soph. Let me know if you ever want to share it 🙂


  9. justinwriter / Aug 5 2012 12:48 pm

    Interesting observation. Although, I suppose it’s possible for some people to connect their job to one of their earliest memories when asked about a possible connection. If you asked them without mentioning their job and their first memory related, then that might be something to study. It could also mean that their career makes them think along certain lines more than other things and so their mind finds the first suitable early memory.

    Our minds like to find coincidences and patterns. If you’re buying a new car and it happens to be blue, you suddenly notice all the blue cars on the road, even though those cars have always been there. 🙂 Psychology Today wrote about this (see their article ‘The Power of Coincidence’ online) and what they say makes a lot of sense although I try to keep an open mind …

    I have more than a dozen early memories, but as I had no concept of time back then, I’m not sure how I would work out which was the first?


    • diannegray / Aug 5 2012 2:22 pm

      Thanks Justin. I’m not sure how you pick out the first. I know my first memory because all other memories I have are in a different house. We moved out of the house I had the memory in when I was about 3 1/2 years old. My older brothers and sisters tell stories about that house, but this is the only thing I remember. I guess I’m lucky in that way.

      I didn’t ask my memory people about their jobs and interests in life until I went back (after about the first hundred) and realised there were connections (from the people I knew). But you’re right, people may subconsciously connect with what they do now, but it’s amazing how many people had never actually thought about their first memory before!

      Also, I started writing my life story (for no other reason than putting away for my grandchildren) and it was amazing what I remembered. The first time I sat down and started writing I only filled one page between my first memory to the age of 15. Then the more I wrote, the more I remembered. Now I have about a page for each year and I’m still going. For example – I got to about 18 and started recalling something my (now) sister-in-law and I did. I actually met her when I was about 11 years old and had completely forgotten to add that in. Go back – add meeting – continue on and then remember other things.

      Thanks for your thoughts, much appreciated – and I’ll read that Psychology Today article 🙂


      • justinwriter / Aug 5 2012 3:18 pm

        Ah, it would make it easier to pinpoint the first memory having moved at such an early age. My family moved house when I was five, so all my early memories occurred in the original house and are lumped together. I have also written quite a bit of my life story (for family only) and you’re right, the more you write, the more you remember. I’ve pretty much exhausted my brain though for the early memories. I’ll have to talk to my sister as she’s older and might be able to clarify or expand some of them and put dates to events.

        By the way, Psychology Today also has a much smaller article ‘Hunting for Coincidences’ which might relate better to your post. In it, there’s a link to the The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon at the Damn Interesting website, which discusses the pattern seeking way our minds work.

        I love hearing about first and early memories too, so if you ever get around to writing a book on it, I’ll buy a copy. 🙂


      • diannegray / Aug 5 2012 3:48 pm

        Thanks, Justin!


  10. jannatwrites / Aug 6 2012 10:18 am

    This is fascinating. It’s intriguing that so many had memories tied to their employment (the freelance artist/poo smearer made me laugh!)


    • diannegray / Aug 6 2012 1:59 pm

      Yes – notice I didn’t name them! They would never have allowed me to post these wih their names (poo smearer in particular!)


  11. richarddancer / Aug 6 2012 8:16 pm

    Great post Dianne. Memories are fascinating and are surely the material we use in our writings and in our imagination today. I’m not sure (recalling mine) that memories have any correlation to my career path(s). Rather than memories, I tend to record dreams – when I can remember them! For me they provide good fodder for fantasy, with all the extraordinary convolutions they contain. Interpreting them is something else – I often find my dreams to be valuable indicators of what is to come. But that’s another story….


    • diannegray / Aug 6 2012 9:08 pm

      Oh, Richard – I’m writing my next post and just saw your comment – it’s about dreams! Maybe I should write something about psychics after that 🙂


  12. audiophileparadise / Aug 6 2012 8:27 pm

    Love it!! Awesome post, Dianne!! Keep it up!!


  13. Veronica Messegee / Aug 8 2012 11:59 am

    Yes, but I won’t share because it’s too personal. Just wanted to say that this post was very thought provoking and I think you might be on to something with that direct correlation idea.


    • diannegray / Aug 8 2012 6:20 pm

      Thanks, Veronica. Naturally there are people who would never share their first memory (my hubby won’t) because they can be very personal/emotional.

      I see you’ve written a lullaby called “When You Dream” – Best of luck with the book (and I’m glad you enjoy singing, like I do! – though I’m not sure other people enjoy my singing) 🙂


  14. Bill Bisgood / Aug 8 2012 7:11 pm

    Hello Dianne,
    Many thanks for following my blog. I hope you enjoy my ideas and I’m looking forward to reading these excellent pages of yours.
    First memories are so interesting, I’ve been collecting them for some time and what often strikes me is that people can perceive them as being so vivid, even at ages when the science tells us they shouldn’t be able to recall.


    • diannegray / Aug 15 2012 7:35 am

      You’re so right, Bill. I particularly like the baby outside the window! How young would he have been! I’m so glad I’m not the only one who collects first memories 🙂

      I’m really looking forward to following your blog!


  15. Shanan / Sep 10 2012 7:23 am

    So fun! Thanks for pointing me at this post!! My earliest memory is clear as a bell. I was about 16 months old, and for whatever reason, I didn’t have a life vest on in the boat. I remember clear, blue water. I was reaching for it. It was cold outside, and I remember my fingers hurting against the wind. (Why we were out on the lake on a day like that is beyond me LOL) I reached over, closer and closer, until I went overboard. I looked up and saw light fading to dark. I saw the white bottom of the boat getting smaller. Then the world blurred… my brother had jumped in. Next thing I remember is being pushed above the water’s surface and my dad grabbing me. As fast as he handed me to my mom, he dove in. My mom told me years later, Keith was wearing a heavy, down jacket that day, and when he jumped in, it filled with water. He couldn’t push himself back into the boat for the weight of his jacket, and he was in a panic.

    I have a ton of memories from then on, but through conversations with my mom, I’ve concluded that’s my earliest.


    • diannegray / Sep 10 2012 7:34 am

      WOW! Nearly drowning is an amazing first memory. I’d like to put this one up on the Memories and Dreams page if that’s okay with you:)

      Do you still like water???


      • Shanan / Sep 10 2012 11:54 am

        I have almost drown twice. Once again in high school. And strangely enough, I went and got my lifeguarding cert! LOL I love the water…. I’m a little weird about people being near me when I can’t touch the ground, though.

        And sure, I’d love to have you share my first memory! 🙂


  16. londonmum / Nov 27 2012 10:53 am

    how very interesting! Love the idea that people’s first memories have influenced their path in life. I have what I think is a first memory but if I am honest I am not sure if it is really my first as there is also a photograph of it. Not sure whether seeing the photo triggered the memory, if that makes sense.
    Anyway, when I was about 1 year and a bit old my mother put me on the top of a laundry hamper so that she could take a photo of me. It was piled high with clothes and I was sat on the pile. Then as a joke she pretended to put the lid on. I don’t remember if I was frightened or not but I can still picture the whole thing in my head. Don’t think it has influenced my career but I do have a tendency to start to feel trapped in things and want to escape. What a fascinating blog you have!


    • diannegray / Nov 27 2012 1:55 pm

      Thank you so much for stopping by and telling your story. It’s a very intriguing one!

      I’m really glad you like my blog 😀


  17. cupcaketravels / Jan 15 2013 11:46 pm

    I just came across this today – very interesting. My first memory was from about the age of 2 1/2, I know my age because I had had surgery on my feet then and both of my legs were in plaster casts. The casts went from my toes to my thighs and they had made them rounded at the bottom to stop me from trying to walk. However, they didn’t count on a determined child – my memory is of being in the bedroom I shared with my sister. My mother had just left the room and I must have been sitting on the floor, but as soon as she left I was up and tottering across the room from one bed to the other. I remember the feeling of determination and achievement, it was wonderful. The casts must have made a loud noise on the wooden floors because then I remember my mother running back in and chastising me, but I was happy, I’d made it to the other bed!

    I don’t know how this relates to my working life, other than I have always been determined to do things well. I’ve had a variety of jobs, changing career & graduating university in my 40s. But there’s a lot more out there in life I have yet to discover and achieve 🙂


  18. diannegray / Sep 13 2012 10:04 am

    Thank you! I’m very flattered 🙂



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