Earliest Memories

Before I return to the other children of my three-times great-uncle Abraham Goldsmith, one more post inspired indirectly by his son Milton.

My final post about Milton referred to the comment in his 1957 obituary in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent that Milton remembered when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. I noted that Milton was only four years old at that time. One of my readers commented that he also could remember a traumatic event from when he was four, and another reader shared her first memory from when she was two and a half. That made me think about the first specific event that I can remember in my own life. I have earlier vague memories, but this is the first clear memory of an event.

I was almost three years old at the time, and my family was spending the summer near Mahopac, New York, on a pond called Long Pond. My aunt and uncle were also there, as were my grandparents. We went to Long Pond for three summers when I was very young. My father and my uncle would return to New York City during the week for work and then come back to Long Pond on weekends. I learned to swim at Long Pond, and I mostly have very vague sense-memories of the place, reinforced by photographs and my uncle’s old home movies.

My mother, me and and my aunt summer 1953 at Long Pond

My cousin Jeff, my father, and me, Long Pond 1954

summer 1955 at Long Pond

 

But the one specific event that I remember very clearly from that third summer at Long Pond was the evening I followed my cousin Jeffrey into the woods. Jeff, who was nine that summer, was my childhood idol. He was six years older than I was and the oldest of the first cousins, all of whom adored him. I have written about Jeff before, here and here, for example. He was smart and funny and lovable; he could always make us all laugh.  My entire family was heartbroken when Jeff died from cancer fourteen years ago.

Jeff and me, 1955

That summer at Long Pond, Jeff was friendly with another boy his age whose family was also staying at Long Pond. I can’t remember that boy’s name, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s call him Joe. Joe had a younger brother who was about six. Let’s call him Sam. One evening after dinner, Jeff and Joe decided to take a walk in the woods near our cabins. I wanted to go with them. I remember Jeff very pointedly telling me that I was too little and that I could not come with them. I was hurt and sad and probably made a stink, but Jeff and Joe wandered off, leaving me behind with Sam, Joe’s six year old little brother.

Then Sam said that we could follow Jeff and Joe, and so off I went, just three years old, following a six year old after two nine year olds. (This was in the days before helicopter parenting.) Before too long, I tripped over a log and fell on a sharp piece of glass, cutting my wrist very close to the vein.

I have no real memory of what happened next. Did Jeff coming running back and rescue me? Did my parents hear my screams and coming running to see what happened? All I know is that someone took me to a doctor nearby, who put butterfly clamps on my wound. To this day, I still have a very nasty two-inch scar on my right wrist.

I was never really bothered by the scar, In fact, at times when I was growing up, it helped me differentiate right from left. My mother used to tell me that someday my husband would buy me a wide gold bracelet to cover the scar. But I almost never thought about it as a child, and now I rarely notice it; nor does anyone else.

When I do look at it these days, I feel very fortunate that I avoided what could have been a much more serious injury. But mostly I look at it and remember with love my cousin Jeff. He may only have been nine at the time, but he was right. I was too little to go walking in the woods in the dusky light of summer that evening.

Jeff and me

 

What is your earliest memory? How old were you?

 

52 thoughts on “Earliest Memories

  1. It seems to me that we remember the more dramatic events in our life more vividly. Also events, which made an impact on the family and friends are being talked about for a long time to come and thus create and refresh memories that would have otherwise faded and completely disappeared. Your scar also became a visible reminder of your traumatic event as a four-year old little girl, Amy.

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  2. I think the earliest memories are mostly related to a shocking event. Maybe there is something in the brain which registers it permanently as IMPORTANT to remember. My memories can be sorted by places we lived since my father was in the military. It makes it easier to remember which year this or that happened.
    For the first five years of my life, we lived in Georgia where I was born. We lived first in a trailer park but later moved into an attached house which was raised off the ground (because of snakes). We were visiting with the neighbors across the street and it was time to go home and go to bed. I started to run across the street. My Dad told me not to run but I continued until I hit the edge of the front porch with my forehead splitting it open just above the right eyebrow. I don’t know how we got to the hospital but I remember the black cloth they placed over my face when stitching. They did a good job with the stitches and the scar isn’t very noticeable. I must have been four at the time.

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  3. Hi Amy, in the spring of 1962 my first memory was collecting tadpoles with my mother in the park. Wonderful, as it was new life.
    My second memory was the winter of 1962 with constant heavy snow. Our neighbour’s had a young girl staying from Canada and we built a snowman in the garden. She got mild frostbite and I cried because I was afraid she would lose her fingers – she didn’t. Mixed memories!

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    • Wow, someone with a happy first memory—how lucky you are! The second one is, I think more typical—something scary and upsetting. Thanks, Shirley, for sharing.

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  4. Trauma seems to stick in the brain, doesn’t it? My earliest memory is from preschool, where a couple of loudmouth boys were jumping off a picnic table and declaring that no girl could do it too. Me being me, I hollered back that girls could do anything boys could do, climbed up on the table, and jumped off. I landed headfirst, splitting my forehead open. I don’t remember the pain, but I do remember the humiliation. I was taken to the doctor for stitches and had to spend the rest of the afternoon lying in crib in the baby room, a further humiliation for a big girl three year old..It was my first act of feminist defiance, but not my last. Luckily all the subsequent ones have gone better than that first one, but I still have a very visible scar on my forehead. What a wonderful post, Amy, and I loved seeing your cute childhood pictures. Jeff clearly loved you, and you him.

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    • Thanks, Leslie—I am starting to see a pattern—so many of us getting hurt doing something silly! But brava to you for standing up to the boys! And yes, Jeff and I did really love each other. He was the big brother I never really had but always wanted. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. My very first memory was with my grandfather. My grandparents kept chickens in their backyard and we would find feathers and have “tickle fights” and try to make each other laugh. Grandpa died just two weeks before my third birthday. The memory of those “tickle fights” however are very clear.

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  6. Amy – I have misplaced your email address and would like to get back in touch. Liz Herman (Baer) McKamy. Hope all’s we’ll with you.

    On Fri, Apr 27, 2018 at 7:36 AM Brotmanblog: A Family Journey wrote:

    > Amy posted: “Before I return to the other children of my three-times > great-uncle Abraham Goldsmith, one more post inspired indirectly by his son > Milton. My final post about Milton referred to the comment in his 1957 > obituary in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent that M” >

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Poor little Amy! What a frightening experience for a little child. No wonder you don’t remember the period where you most frightened. I enjoy reading about memory and how it works. One of my favorite theories is that there are voluntary and involuntary memories (Sven Birkerts). People can have the most mundane involuntary memories, and nobody knows why they remember those things. Remembering a huge trauma like this is something else entirely. My first memory falls somewhere between. I was less than two years old and still in a crib–that’s how I know how young I really was as i was out of a crib by the time I turned two. I swallowed one of my blue plastic butterfly barrettes when I was standing up screaming in my crib, trying to be let out because I didn’t want a nap. I remember the shade down, the darkish room, the white metal bars, and my little music box playing away, making me more and more frustrated. And then the frightening swallow and screaming again.

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    • That sounds so scary—were you unable to breathe? How did they get it out? Or did you swallow it completely?

      Memory is so interesting. One of the most mysterious and frustrating things for me is when my husband and I have different memories of the same event. We are both 100% sure of our individual versions, yet we can’t both be right. We’ve learned after enough arguments that we each have our own memories somehow programmed into our brains, and neither of us can convince the other that our view is right. (But, of course, I am right—right?)

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      • I swallowed it completely. Next step was also memorable hahaha. I really have a lot of very early memories and in this I am like my grandfather, the one who saved all the family information and stories to tell me :). My most consistent bundle of memories took place on a family trip south. I remember literally everything: the preparation for the trip, the drive there and what we saw, the movie theatre in Dallas, the fancy French restaurant in New Orleans and the artists on the street there, the boat trip on the Mississippi, the captain giving me his hat (still feel like I’m there!), and losing my jacket. I remember more about this trip than any trip I have ever taken after that. I was 3 3/4.
        Isn’t that so strange how our memories get skewed sometimes? There are times that people make portmanteau memories where they combine two memories together. Or my favorite is where something happens and we make it a “tradition” in our heads–that it happened every year, something like that–only it didn’t.

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      • Wow, that is an incredible amount of detail to remember of a trip you took at such a young age. Sometimes when I am with my grandsons, I wonder—how much of the quality time I spent with them from when they were toddlers will they remember? It is sort of a morbid thought—if I die now, will they remember me? Or will I be just a vague memory like I have of my own grandfather? They are now almost 4 and almost 8 so I feel like even the younger one is now old enough to start retaining memories. Your experience reassures me! (And, of course, like you, my grandsons are brilliant!)

        I think we do have filters and rewrite our own stories unconsciously. I think that’s why Harvey and I have contrasting memories of the same event. But it sure makes it hard to trust own memories.

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      • They definitely would have very fond memories of you, Amy! They are both old enough, no matter how good their memories are. By the way, I think a good long-term memory is a trait like being a good speller–not connected to anything else. I’m sure they’ll find a gene for it ;). As far as Harvey goes, just trust your own version haha!

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      • True—same for me. But it is amazing to think that if someone said to me, “What were you doing on April 29, 1971?” that I’d be able to recall that specific day in detail. There are certainly days I wish I could relive again.

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  8. What a touching tribute to my brother Amy. He was the light of our family. Always the jokester and the one to make us laugh. Also the teacher of everything. He will live in our hearts forever.

    My earliest memory was when I was four. Nothing dramatic. Just playing up in my back yard and climbing a tree. But when I was five, my mother took me for my first haircut and that was traumatic. I went from beautiful long hair to a pixie cut. I surely remember that day.

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  9. I agree with Cathy – our brain remembers what it thinks is important. My earliest memory is of wanting something on the top of my parents’ dresser, which was a high boy. I was four years old and wanted to reach the object by myself. Unbeknownst to my mother, I was smart enough to realize that if I opened the lower drawers in a staggered manner, I could use them like steps to reach the top. The only problem with my plan is that when I “climbed” them, the dresser began to tilt and fall over. Luckily, I jumped off to the floor, the dresser stayed upright and my mother never knew a thing about it.

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  10. I have several memories but not many details to go with them. One I do remember fairly well was when I was about 3-4 and my sister and I were running through a department store (I know, we shouldn’t have done it). I’m sure it wasn’t intentional but somehow my sister tripped me and boom, down I went. I remember arriving at the emergency room and the resulting stitches but, thankfully, I don’t remember the pain that resulted.

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    • It’s remarkable how many people’s first memories involve falls and injuries. Those must really traumatize our young innocent little souls. And yes, I don’t remember the pain or even the stitches in my case. Thanks for sharing, Debi!

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  11. Amy, There is so much love that I feel coming from this post. It really is a chapter suitable for a memoir. I can connect with how much Jeff meant to you.

    My earliest memory is playing on the stoop with my Uncle Jerry. I did not have an imaginary playmate but I had my Uncle Gerry. He was my Mom’s baby brother who passed away at 3 years of age. But even at 4 years of age I insisted he still came to visit me. Photos of Gerry, whom we all called “The Baby” were plentiful. That, plus the way my Mom often spoke of him, kept him always on my mind. He would come and go from the walls or walk into the room all at once.

    The earliest memory I have is that I was playing with a Jack in the Box, very intently. When I looked up Gerry was there pointing to the spinning top. I switched to that and he was with me for awhile.

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    • It sounds like Gerry was your imaginary friend (mine was Buffalo Bob on Howdy Doody) since he was (to you) someone unreal and so idealized. I hadn’t thought of it in a long time, but your comment reminded me how I would use Buffalo Bob for comfort and company when I was trying to fall asleep or when I was playing. Thanks for stirring that memory.

      And yes, Jeff meant and still means a lot to me.

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      • To me as a child there was no distinction between what was real and what was not. The family talked often of the departed and would go into deep conversations if we had dreams about the deceased Also there are the Catholic holidays of All Saints & All Souls Days where the departed holy ones and our loved ones are remembered. Even though my parents were not religious the influences from friends and community contributed to a view where the supernatural was an accepted part of life.

        I think I could have enjoyed your visits with Buffalo Bill. He may have represented strength and protection for you. Falling asleep can sometimes seem scary to a child.

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  12. Amy, Here’s a hug! You are so perceptive. Not everyone can see that my family was spiritual but not dogmatically religious. I attribute this to my Dad who had a liberal view in these matters. He suffered so much discrimination in the neighborhood on account of Grandma Bessie being Jewish. Anyway, you are correct that Gerry was an imaginary friend, I just didn’t make that clear. Somehow the memory comes back without the adult, analytical part of me expressing it in a mature way! Anyway, I enjoyed this interlude in your posting schedule and look forward to your next adventure in research.

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  13. Memory plays strange tricks, doesn’t it? I, too, have a scar (now very faint) from a fall down the basement stairs at our then home, but I have absolutely no memory of it – I never remembered it, even in childhood. My earliest memory is of a day at the beach – I must have been three, or something. My mother was a fanatical ‘knitter’ (hangover from the war, maybe) and she had knitted me a swimming costume! It loaded up with water, it sagged, it was the most embarrassing garment I have ever worn! Even now the thought makes me cringe!

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  14. Lovely post Amy.

    Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between proper memories, things people (like my parents) have told me and photographs.

    However I do remember some things like the house we moved to when I was about 4 and there being windchimes hanging on a tree in the garden, things like going to the house next door where a retired RAF Group Captain lived with his wife and I used to sit and read the books they had there for their grandchildren (I loved reading and could read very well before I went to school.) I have a memory perhaps aged about 5 when I was trying to stay awake in case I saw Father Christmas come into my room, and being convinced I heard sleigh bells!

    I have memories of being at playgroup (our version of kindergarden) aged 4 and playing with cars and some boy there who had a temper throwing the cars around. And there being a Father Christmas who came to visit to give out gifts to the children and I got a rhythmic gymnastics ribbon!

    I have quite a good memory for things though, I remember a fair few things from my childhood, pretty good remembering names and faces etc.

    I often wonder what sort of memories my stepsons will have, particularly my previous stepson from my first marriage, I was his stepmother from when he was about 2 and a half till he was 9, so I’d like to think he may have some good memories of me!

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    • You are lucky to be able to remember so much with that clarity. I do remember things from kindergarten when I was five—playing with a favorite doll, playing some game with flashcards of words, the playground, and being afraid of what was on the second floor of the building. And I remember the apartment we lived in until I was four and a half and waiting for my father to get home from work. But the memory in this post is the earliest clear memory of a specific event.

      And I am sure your stepson remembers you! Do you still have a relationship with him?

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  15. Wow! Reading these I realise just how right you are about how our childhoods were relatively free of helicopter parenting. Although not my earliest memories, I have several involving my younger brother getting injured and needing stitches. I seem to remember also being (at least inadvertently) the cause of these as he always followed me around and I was a total tomboy. Obviously not a particularly attentive one. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Bryan! According to his passport application, Morris was born in Maroldweisach, Germany. I have no primary source for Matilda’s specific birthplace, except for Bavaria, but another tree on Ancestry says she was born in Buchenbach. Hope that helps!

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