None of us live in the present, not unless we’re meditating, and even then it’s really hard. Mostly we live in the past. Sometimes in the future. Memories are fuzzy, mutable, and, depending on who you ask, highly inaccurate accounts of our past. Therefore, it’s safe to say we live in lala land most of the time.
Well, okay, I do. I admit it.
So, I asked the Miss Demeanors about their earliest memories.
I remember my first birthday. My mother put me in a blue dress that was stiff and scratchy with lots of lace and puffy sleeves. She said my grandmother had made it for me. I thought it was a ball gown like Cinderella’s but it was just a size too big so I’d grow into it.
(Emilya: HOW CUTE is that picture? Teeny Keenan!)
This is an interesting question because my husband and I have talked about the fact that I remember so much of my childhood, and he remembers almost nothing up until the age of 8 or so. I think it’s because my mother talked about my childhood a lot and his didn’t. So I really can’t be sure if my memories are really memories or if they are pictured memories of things my mother told me. Anyway, here’s one she didn’t tell me. One time my mother carefully folded up my doll clothes and put them in a little doll suitcase. But the latch didn’t catch, so when she picked it up to hand it to me, everything fell out. I felt so sorry for her, I cried. She thought I was crying because the clothes had fallen out, but I wasn’t. I was crying for her, but I didn’t know how to tell her. I also remember my Norwegian grandfather playing “Tervimpen” with me [phonetic—it’s a knee-bouncing song], and he died when I was two.
(Emilya: Cuteness overload. We should only post baby pictures from now on)
I think I was 3 and my uncle was a soldier and was returning home after being stationed in England. The whole family was gathered at my grandmother’s house and I remember the door flinging open and me running down the steps and jumping into his arms. A very happy memory.
(Emilya: I can totally picture this)
I don’t remember anything before the age of three and what I do remember are random snippets with no obvious significance (a Freudian or Jungian would probably disagree). The first is a memory of standing in the grass at the edge of my driveway singing Bennie and the Jets by Elton John. The other is sitting in a booth at a seafood restaurant, Chesapeake Bay Seafood House, playing with the menus–at the time, the menus were made of wood and shaped like fish. I’d borrow a menu from one of my parents and pretend that fish and my fish were fighting while singing Kung Fu Fighting. The things bored children do while they’re waiting for the server to bring the hush puppies.
I also remember curling my nose up at Hogates rum buns. Hogates was another seafood restaurant but, back in the day, a heckuva lot fancier than Chesapeake Bay. It was the kind of place where Mom and I wore a fancy dress and Dad wore a jacket and tie. It was in DC, on the waterfront. We rarely went because driving into DC took some intention. They were famous for their rum buns, made with real rum. Mom and Dad loved them but young me couldn’t fathom why anyone enjoyed anything that tasted like rum. Even today I prefer my rum in a cocktail rather than over my food. I love bourbon sauce, though.
The rum buns were famous enough to be written about in the Washington Post.
If you Google “Hogates Rum Buns,” you’ll find recipes
(Emilya: Now I want Rum Buns. NOW.)
This is a question I’ve struggled with when I hear others have very early memories, like Keenan and Connie. I don’t know what I remember from what I’ve been told. I remember being four when my mother shrieked because she discovered I had a lump that happened to be a hernia. I remember locking myself in the bathroom by mistake at the Naval hospital where I had it repaired and that someone had to climb a ladder and enter through the window to unlock the door. I told my parents, but they didn’t believe me until someone confirmed my story to my father.
Here’s a vague memory that haunts me. My father was a relatively high-ranking Naval officer stationed in Squantum, MA (near Boston). We had been invited to the Cape (Cod) with other officers and their families for a day at a compound of gracious beach homes, where there were games and a beach and more fun than I had ever had in my life. I know I was under four because my younger brother wasn’t there or was a baby who didn’t partake in the festivities. I recall never wanting to leave and feeling exhausted in joy. I see the place in sepia tones and can feel the chill of the evening set in as we were leaving. I remember a sadness coming over me, knowing what I was missing. My family did not go to or hold events where children ran wild and squealed with delight. I believe the event was at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis based on photos and that my Dad knew and had been to events with JFK.
I feel like I’ve just been to therapy. There are no photos of the event. Maybe I imagined it all.
(Emilya: This is so vivid I can smell the ocean. Children feel so strongly about everything.)
My first memory is very vivid, but more because I was conscious at the time that it was and always would be my first memory. We lived on a dead-end street. I was 5 years old in the days when 5-year-olds were allowed to run pretty freely.
I was running down the street, chasing after my older brother. We were both on our way to our best friends’ house. (The same house. They were also brother and sister). I took a stride and stopped dead in my tracks. Everything—and I mean everything, including the step just before this one—was hidden behind a curtain of blackness. I knew my name and other vital details, but I couldn’t remember a thing before that moment. I still can’t.
(Emilya: Reading this gave me chills.)
Like some of you, I have many vague, shadowy images from my early years but no clear memories. I think I remember the WWII blackouts because my dad was away and my mom would take me into her bed because she was afraid of the dark.
I’m not sure whether some of the memories I do have are from family stories or photographs. I do remember having my tonsils out on the kitchen table. Yes, I’m that old. I was maybe three or four and I remember being taken from my bed and placed on the table. Afterward, I was shown the tonsils floating in a jar and I got to eat lots of ice cream. Another memory from around the same time is my mother screaming when we caught a mouse in a trap under the sink and I carried it outside.
One fairly clear memory from when I was six or seven is the night WWII ended. My father put us in the car and we joined the many cars driving through our town blowing our horn to celebrate.
A really strong memory from the summer before I entered second grade. We were waiting for my parents to close our grocery/butcher store so we could go to a carnival. I was bored and I took one of the butcher knives and tried to cut a jump rope off the large roll of rope and ended up sticking the knife in my eye. Needless to say we went to the hospital, not the carnival. I was thrilled at the time because I got to wear a patch over my eye (like a pirate) for a year.
(Emilya: I’m speechless. All this needs to be in a book. Or at least a story. With this pic on the cover.)
Tracee de Hahn
What fabulous memories! The first memories I know are mine, not prodded by stories or photographs, are from first grade. All typical activites of recess and specific scenes of school and teachers. There is one other memory which wasn’t particularly vivid, but which reminds me how memory is unreliable. When in college, I traveled to Key West. Upon arriving I had the weird sensation of disappointment, I’d expected tall cliffs. Now, I hadn’t thought about it, and knew that Key West is barely a hill out of the ocean, but for one instant I had a memory of descending cliffs when I was there as a toddler with my parents. My parents reminded me that climbing down into a boat when you are a toddler must feel like a cliff.
(Emilya: I have similar memories of things that I know are small being huge)
Mine is sitting in a wooden highchair with my mom feeding me from a pink spoon. I also remember toddling through a field toward my cousin and I remember flowers being taller than I was. So, I’m not sure which is the earliest.
I have many memories from nursery school, mostly at winter-time, but I don’t know how old I was. Once, I put on these felt booties all Russian children wore in the snow, went out for playtime in the snow… and lost them in the snow. I guess it was deep enough for my boots to stay while my feet ran me back to building. Then the nannies had to go out looking for them and they were annoyed with me.
Care to share YOUR earliest memories with us?
Emilya Naymark is the author of the novels Hide in Place and Behind the Lie.
Her short stories appear in A Stranger Comes to Town, edited by Michael Koryta, Secrets in the Water, After Midnight: Tales from the Graveyard Shift, River River Journal, Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories 2017, and 1+30: THE BEST OF MYSTORY.
When not writing, Emilya works as a visual artist and reads massive quantities of psychological thrillers, suspense, and crime fiction. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family.