Did you know, if you ask someone to name their earliest childhood memory, they’ll probably tell you the wrong thing. It’s not a lie – they just can’t actually remember.
They’ll ‘remember’ something that’s from a photo, or something far more recent than they imagined. Or it’s one of those anecdotes their mother repeats endlessly (and seemingly moreso as she gets older).
Ever visited a place you knew well from your childhood, only to notice it’s nothing like you remembered? Things are in different places. Most seem smaller. Some objects only ever existed in your imagination.
Your mind was in a whole other state back then. It was spongier. Things mattered more, and mattered differently. It didn’t process thoughts the same way it does now (thank god) and had no experiences to reference those thoughts against. Whatever you think you remember from ages 3-4, you’re probably off.
And that’s as deep as I’m gonna get into that one, since I’m neither a psychologist nor a neurologist (trust me, you don’t want me to try).
It’s still there!
So I’ve been surprised, recently, to find out there’s quite a lot of hard, accurate memories still stuck in my head. From years much earlier than I thought.
The background: I have a son who’s just turned four. I have no prior experience with 3-4 year-olds other than when I was one myself, and had a bunch of them as friends.
Completely stumped over what to read him for bedtime stories, for years I’ve been re-buying all the books my mother used to read me at that age. Actually she recorded herself on a reel-to-reel tape and left me alone with it, probably leading to my later technofetish… but I’ll explore that one another time.
I had to ask her for a list of titles; there’s no way I would’ve remembered them myself.
And damned if I don’t remember each book like I heard it yesterday. The pictures too. Say the title of the book and I’ll vaguely remember something about it, but start reading it, and… wow. I know what’s on the next page. I knew them all off by heart again after one reading.
Apparently I even read them with the same mannerisms and tone my mother used to. That’s probably another consequence of hearing them on tape.
These stories pre-date anything I would’ve claimed otherwise as my ‘earliest childhood memory’. And they’re far more vivid. It’s a bit frightening really – what else is still up in my head that I don’t know about, waiting to be unstuck? (no solicitations from hypno-therapists, please).
At some point, I grew out of those books. There was a moment when I closed each one for the last time and moved on, not realizing it would be nearly four decades before I opened it again, if ever.
I can’t even recall adequate details from books I read five years ago. But I can remember these kids’ books – and more interestingly, I can remember how I felt when I read each one.
The warm comfort of my old bed from a time when my house was 90% of my world, that oily smell of plasticine on my fingers from a hard days’ playing, the garish 70s-ness of the decor… the soft whirr-click sound of the Panasonic tape reels…