What’s Your Earliest Memory?

A writer friend commented how some people seem to remember very little from their childhood, while others remember a lot.

I have tons of memories from before we moved from South Dakota when I was four, but I’d be hard-pressed to say which was the earliest. A contender might be pushing my head against the bars of the crib, which was aroused when my own first born joined us. That’s not much of a memory, though.

I do remember, though, moving into my own bed when I outgrew the crib, in the room I shared with my much older brother. I remember the cropland past the base perimeter, visible through our window, and the Windmill we always passed on our way into Rapid City. I remember dreaming of monsters (cartoon dinosaurs) and not being frightened until one night they were suddenly in color (this was before we got our first color TV).
I remember my tiny, approximately 3 year old hand on the screw cap to a thermos full of ice–the cap with the blue snowflake on it. I was sitting in the rock flats where the glaciers dropped their till at the close of the ice age (picture a gravel parking lot stretching off to the horizon and the hills). I was still little enough my mom had to carry me, but she knew I’d stay by the ice-filled thermos.
I remember being in the Badlands of South Dakota, leaning against a pine tree, playing with my Matchbox cars when my favorite, a little green station wagon, turned down the hill and rolled out of reach. Many years later I mentioned it to my mom and said it was odd that I specifically remember not going after it and had always wondered why not. She said, “That was probably because you were tied to the tree.” She didn’t want me getting myself killed while she was excavating fossils.
I remember how excited I was when I realized I’d figured out why the old man at the Esso station always cleaned the windscreen the same way (I was still little enough to ride in the little detent left when the front armrests were pushed down.
I remember wondering how shadows work while swinging in the back yard on Ellsworth AFB.
I remember baloney sandwiches and Shasta soda, and the first aluminum cans. I remember the pines creaking overhead. The smell of pine. Fireworks, viewed from a bluff overlooking the town, with all the kids chasing fireflies.
I remember
  • sitting on the big rock on the driveway
  • getting a new Tricycle
  • going back inside to get my mom to tie my shoes
  • Trying to screw in a woodscrew (an idea Grandmom gave Daddy to keep me busy, which it must have for months).
  • Going to cut a Christmas Tree
  • Having a pop gun in the car
  • Getting whipped for dropping something inside the door of the Lincoln
  • Having my hand slammed in the door of the Lincoln
  • Feeding a chipmunk at Yellowstone
  • Sitting on the prairie, watching the prairie dogs in the hot sun, somewhere near Devil’s tower
  • Looking out over the Badlands, holding the imprint of a fossil fish I’d just picked out of the strata
  • being given a toy firetruck so I’d have something to occupy me on the rare occasion my parents hired a sitter
  • the smell of fresh mown grass through the dining room window screens
  • the constant sounds of B52 engines at idle
  • hail beating dents in Daddy’s Lincoln
  • watching Glenn Campbell play on a Black and White TV.
I remember Indian petroglyphs near Custer State Park, which my mom dismissed as graffiti without looking, but which I knew even at that age were no such thing. I remember rattlesnakes and burs, cracked dry soil, and locust shells. I remember wagon ruts from the homestead era, and the remnants of a covered wagon on the prairie (when I wanted my dad to somehow cart home). I remember ghost towns and mirages and abandoned railroad bridges, copper ore and what I now know was the ventilation shaft for a long abandoned mine.
I remember Daddy waxing the Mustang while a tornado dipped from the clouds, till mom made us all go inside.
I remember a lot, but we did a lot of things and had a lot of adventures most don’t have. I had a lot of hooks to hang memories on.
I could go on and on. I remember a lot, and there’s no question that these memories inform my writing still, or that the stories my mother told of growing up in Louisiana fueled my desire to write.
How about you? What’s your first memory?
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