I once knew a man who said he had no memories before the age of ten or eleven. I found that one of the saddest things I’d ever heard. My head is full of childhood memories that I cherish and I can’t imagine not having them. Until yesterday I’d always put down the man's lack of memories to a traumatic childhood that he’d suppressed. Now I’m not so sure.
My very first memory is of standing on a roadside, holding Mum’s hand. It was cold and I was wearing a little blue coat. I loved that blue coat because everyone had told me how good I looked in it. A vehicle pulled up and we climbed in. Then I got scared, because the windows inside were all black and I couldn’t see out.
Years later, I told Mum about that memory and she said it must have been when my brother was born. He was born a little early and had no fingernails, so she had to take him daily to get dressings on his fingers until his nails grew. Each day an ambulance bus from the hospital would come and pick us up – with black windows so people couldn’t see in. I was two-and-a-half years old.
Yesterday my sisters and brother and I, and our families, gathered in a park in the city for an Easter picnic. Now you’d think that the five of us, having shared so many childhood experiences would have similar memories. But by the end of the day I was beginning to wonder if I’ve created memories for myself.
Somehow in the course of conversation we started talking about the church we used to go to – a little old English village church, full of carved cherubs and archways and with a path to the front made out of worn 11th Century grave stones (that’s my memory of it). We could all remember being given caramels to chew during the sermon to keep us quiet, but when I started talking about some of the people in the congregation, my whole family looked at me as if I’d gone mad. I can definitely remember a man we secretly called Mr Sweep because his wiry grey hair stuck up all over his head like a chimney brush. If we peeked at him over the pew, he’d smile and wave a Vulcan greeting like Mr Spock. He was the local Bank Manager. If I can remember that, why can none of my siblings?
My younger brother and sister were only 4 and 5 when we left, but my older sisters were 11 and 12, so I would have thought think they’d at least remember part of what I can see so vividly in my head. But no, they can’t. Nor can they remember the woman in the front pew who wore a fox-skin stole, with three foxtails that hung down her back. I used to sit thinking very unchristian thoughts about this woman who’d killed three innocent little foxes to keep herself warm (that was while I was supposed to be praying). But I’m apparently the only one who remembers her.
I wonder if people who write children’s fiction are the ones who are blessed with clear childhood memories, like Roald Dahl must have been to write ‘Boy’? Or is it because I have a very visual memory that I remember so much more than my siblings? I don’t think it’s just that, because I can remember smells and emotions too.
I’m interested to know. How are your memories?