Early Memory

Early memories. Nothing more guaranteed to start a debate in our family groupings. For a start, there’s always someone who doesn’t believe someone else’s Earliest Memory. Disproving the recollection by whatever legal means possible prompts a big fight usually ending in tears. The earlier the memory, the more likely it is that it won’t be believed.

“Oh, someone told you that!” It’s true that suggestion is a powerful tool, and in many cases, a memory may well be an implanted account.

But when you are convinced of the integrity of your mind, that sort of response is as bad as telling someone they are lying. It means you aren’t believed, and there are few things in life worse than not being believed.

I know this to be true because I am one of those people with a very early memory. I was 21 months old. A year and three-quarters old, if that makes it sound more believable. I can even give it a precise date: 21st November 1961, although obviously at the time I had no real concept of time or dates. I was standing at the top of a staircase in the house we lived in wearing a pair of red tartan trousers. That detail is very important, because no one else can remember the clothes I was wearing the day my sister was born. So I cling on to that little piece of information with grim determination, because it’s my evidence, my proof, that I remembered this scene, and it wasn’t recounted to me.

I stood at the top of the stairs and called down to my father who must have just come through the front door home from work. I called down “I’ve got a baby sister”. ¬†And that’s the memory. Nothing else.

But I’ve had to fight over the years to keep ownership of this fragmentary recollection. I don’t remember when I first recounted it to anyone else. But for as long as I can recall discussing it, I have been challenged about it. With a lawyer’s mind, I can adduce various elements such as the red tartan to support its authenticity. But the very nature of the account makes it an unlikely story to be ‘told’. It isn’t really a story at all. I stood on a top step and called out to my father that I had a baby sister.

When I saw The Daily Post’s suggestion for today, I didn’t feel terribly inspired. I felt rather bored by the idea of telling the world my earliest memory. But in view of the passion with which I have defended it, I think my reluctance stemmed from years of not being believed, and always ending up in defensive mode. Over 50 years on, I’m clearly still in defensive mode!

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