Wednesday, February 10, 2016

On the Extreme Persistence of Memories

How far back can you actually remember something?

My recent mutterings about clarity of memories got me thinking on that question.  My premise was that stressful events helped lock in details of memories.

I do remember 22 November 1963, the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  The Principal came around to each of our classrooms at Lowell Elementary school.  He stood near the doorway to the room and told us.  There was an American flag above the door.  Every morning we pledged Allegiance to it.  Do grade school kids still do that?

But that was a couple of years after we moved to our new house.  I have a few memories of the previous house.  Since I started school at age 4 I can push memories back to age 3.

Maybe memories is over stating things.  I can recall scenes, something like little video clips.

Circa 1960 the Baby Boom was the dominant social theme.  Kids were everywhere.  Our neighborhood had the usual pack of small folk dashing about in the back yards of the block.  I remember one slightly chubby kid.  I recall that we had a never used brick barbecue in our yard.  It had a square ceramic chimney.  I have a mental image of this kid getting stuck in it.  Now, no kid would climb down a chimney head first, so my image of pudgy legs kicking in the air is no doubt artifice.  My dad came and helped him out.  In my memory my father was always wearing a white shirt.

Here is another moment in time.  I am up earlier that the rest of the family. I go padding down to the kitchen.  I open the refrigerator.  It is of course white and has the rounded corners of that design era. It has bright, stark white light inside and is humming contentedly to itself.  My height lets me see the bottom racks better than the top.  I grab a tub of cottage cheese.  I don't remember getting a spoon but I must have.  I dig in, take a healthy bite and...yuck.  The stuff had gone bad.  I associate this memory with the birth of my youngest brother.  Eisenhower era dads were somewhat hapless in matters domestic. Perhaps my mom was in the hospital or home and recuperating.  On the basis of this experience I did not eat cottage cheese for another two decades.

At the risk of some slight, if undeserved, embarrassment I think I can push the memory frontier back to age 2.

We lived in a duplex.  My parents owned it.  Upstairs lived a woman named Kay.  She was a nice lady who would give me candy.  I remember walking up to her door and knocking on it.  I had a little leather pouch that was just the thing for putting candy into.  Kay answered the door.  I recall, gosh blushing a bit here, that she patted my bottom to make sure I was dry.  I sincerely hope that I am remembering far back enough that I was in diapers.

I don't remember if I got any candy that trip.

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