Some people apparently don’t have many memories of their early childhood years. At least that’s what I gather whenever I reveal just how far back my memories go. For some reason, I have very clear memories of my earliest years. One memory that is particularly clear may be the earliest. When I shared the details with my mama several years before she died, I found out just how early. As I relayed to her details of that memory, her eyes grew wide and she said, “Jim…do you remember being born!” Believe it or not, I was only five months old. Here’s how I know.
When I was born in March of 1957, my brother was a senior in high school. He turned 18 that April, graduated that June, and went into the Air Force immediately after he graduated. That meant he completed boot camp in August 1957. The place I described to my mama’s astonishment belonged my brother’s girlfriend’s family. We had gone there during the week he was home from boot camp. March to August – five months.
We were at a cabin, and there were woods nearby. There was also a stream. The cabin was made of dark, flat wood interspersed with wide white lines. Inside was a golden wood floor. There was a squarish hallway, and someone was holding me around my waist and under my arms facing away from her (the person was female, most likely my brother’s girlfriend). There was a guitar hanging on the wall in the hallway, and whoever was holding me took my left hand and strummed my fingers lightly across the strings. Next I remember being held under my arms by someone who was letting my bare feet dangle in the cool running water of the stream. Images of the water on my feet and the pebbles in the streambed, even of the diaper I was wearing, are still as vivid as ever.
There are many other things I remember from before I was two years old. How do I know? Because many of the memories are from the year we spent in Savannah. I remember standing in our empty house in Hillsboro, all the familiar furnishings already packed and probably en route. I was very sad, even the emotions are still clear. I also remember how happy I was when we moved back into the same house. After that, I always had a fear of moving again.
I remember my second Christmas, being taken out of my baby bed in the corner of Mama’s and Daddy’s room, and carried to the room where the Christmas tree stood. There were presents and toys, but I can’t remember any in particular. It would be another three months before I’d be two years old. A couple of months before that, I remember Halloween night and being terrified of the trick-or-treaters. As I stood with Mama in the doorway, a group of kids in costumes terrified me, and one of them, a little girl (a few years older than me) that often came over to play with me, pulled up her mask and said, “It’s just me, Jim.” That didn’t help – I remember clearly thinking that whatever these monsters were, one of them must have eaten her.
As the years progressed and I grew from a toddler to a boy, a boy to a teenager, a teenager to a young man, and a young man to the present, thousands of images, crisp and vivid, have accumulated in my mind. Sometimes late at night, when the world around me is quiet and I am still, I can play these memories like old movies. I have often wished there was some way to project them on a screen so others could see. It’s awfully lonely sometimes, especially since most of the memories are of people no longer alive and places that have drastically changed. The quantum singularity of time and space seem to have been suspended somehow in my subconscious, and on some quiet evenings it seems I might be snatched back to some other time, and it’s frightening. As much as I cherish the memories, it’s the pleasure, or trial, of the present moment that suits me best. And on a still evening in the future, it’s likely that this moment too will play like a video in my mind.
[Note: The photograph is my mama and me on my first Christmas.]