Books Magazine

What is Your Earliest Memory?

By Hannahreadsstuff

So yesterday I posted about writing more, and how I had been using for prompts and inspiration. I also said that I would post the piece I wrote yesterday, so as I am true to my word and never lie, here it is.

What is your earliest memory?

The Great Memory by Valerie Hammond, 2007

The Great Memory by Valerie Hammond, 2007

When I asked, Science told me that my first memory was almost certainly not real. Anything you think you remember before two years of age was probably formed in your brain using material from other people’s anecdotes – little memory building blocks you borrowed and turned into something of your own. But, as with memory itself, it depends who you ask as to what Science you want to believe.

I have a vested interest in my first memory being real, so I’m probably going to go with whichever Science says I can believe in it. This winter-clad moment, when I wasn’t yet two, is my only connection with someone whose presence was much missed in my life.

I am small, not pram small, toddling small, but not full-blown conversation big. I am sat in front of a fire, a medieval grate towers in front of it like a castle, protecting my little person flesh against the whip of flame (there may also have been hired orcs standing guard on either side with water buckets at the ready, I was a well protected child, but I’ll accept their presence in this story is almost certainly down to one of those “conjured” memories). I am fussing with something in my lap, a doll I think, something handed down from my sister, but no less loved by me. I’m feeling its hair tag through my fingers, thinking to myself “I’d like this knotty, unmanageable hair for myself…I will make Having Awful Hair my life’s work” (there has to have been something that triggered my almost punishable neglect of my locks).

The rest of my family are in the room, standing behind the sofa that has been pulled up towards the heat of the fire. They are chatting happily, hovering by the door, anticipating something. My mom talks quietly, my dad’s belly fills with laughter, ready to be let free to bounce around the room when the waited-for moment comes. A sibling or two flits in and out of the corner of my eye.  The sky is just starting to slip into gray outside, we light the room with the fire and one table lamp – everything is soft orange.  It is cold outside and festive feeling inside, but not quite Christmas. There is excitement and peaceful contentment decorating everything – It feels perfect.

A bell chimes and people scatter, I look up from my toy for any instruction from mum, non are given so I stay in my position, finger-combing Tiny Tears. But I can’t ignore the influx that has roared into the room for long. A fierce love pours from the front door, the whole room has flooded with it in an instance. I look from person to person, trying to pick out the new one in the room. My sister laughs and claps her hands to her chest that is fit to burst, she has packed her bag with happiness and positioned herself firmly on the brink of Fun-To-Be-Had. A smile edges the corners of my brother’s shy mouth, his eyes turn up to the newbie, bright and shiny with boldness. Both my parents beam, picking up drink fetching and banter duties respectively.

It is then, having checked off everyone I know, that he leans into my orbit. I cannot hear the words he says, but his mouth forms shapes and I follow its dance. He seems jolly nice, I think. Thick rimmed glasses are perched on his nose and he bends down onto one knee with the unthreatening confidence of Family. He is like a sea-bitten Buddy Holly. I do not budge. I do not sharply shuffle, knees raw on the carpet, for escape behind my mother’s legs like I usually would. I sit there transfixed as he points at things and smiles.

Under his arm is a long green snake and after a time he introduces it to me. He weaves its head hypnotically towards me, to and fro, as though it has come to life before us. But I still do not budge, not even in the face of a marauding green serpent; this man is safety and he will stop dead any danger it may possess. He would wrestle the stuffing out of that thing should it turn on me. Somehow, I just know this. He turns the snake about and rattles its bead-filled tail at my nose, I giggle and grab for it.

He pushes himself up then, hand on knee, satisfied with Uncle-duty so far,  touching my soon-to-be nest of hair on his way up. He returns to the brood and the warmth of gleeful eyes. He has left the snake lying next to me, gazing happily into the fire with its goggly eyes. Its felt tongue sticks out the side of its long mouth at me. I am not sure if this deposit bestows ownership, but as I grew up, no sight of that snake went without a thought of him and the warmth and the love of that moment.

Ok, so the mind makes flourishes, but sometimes, I assure you, you should let it. The man who made my first memory will die in a clattering, undeserved way, walking to a telephone to ask for help. No one came to pat away the snakes that day. The reality of that is worth swapping for the conjured warmth of a toddler’s building-block-built mind any made-up day.

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