Today’s journaling exercise is simple in theory, but may not be so simple to execute.
What is your first memory?
Though not always true, what I’ve noticed about first memories is their traumatic tendencies. We might hope they would tend toward the loving nature of a parent or older sibling; maybe the memory of being held, or of a fireplace as mom or dad rocked us to sleep. Perhaps running in a meadow with a big sister, and picking flowers for mom. If your memories are something like that, great! I just haven’t found that to be true about memories in general, especially first memories.
Traumatic memories, even for those of us who live a very common life, provide the drama that exists within everyday living. And this makes them even more valuable to the journal-keeper and their readers (even if only for self). Without them, our lives would be dull indeed.
The summer of 1957 was hot and dry in eastern New Mexico, quite typical for that area. I was three, my older brother about 6, and my older sister about 9. We lived on a ten-acre plot of land, with a fenced yard, and beyond the yard lay a barnyard with a small garden patch, a hen house and pig pen. Even as a three-year-old, the lay of the land was not unfamiliar to me. My mother tells stories of taking me with her to feed the chickens, and an attack by roosters. (A story for another day!) However, I was unfamiliar with the hazards of the barnyard.
I don’t recall, but I must have been playing in the back yard with my brother and sister, when they decided to go into the barnyard for some reason, and left me on my own. I guess I decided to follow them. But I was barefoot.
The bare, dusty ground was not only hot, but it also was fertile for a weed that we called “goatheads.” A weed that grew along the ground, and bore the fruit of hard little stickers, or “goatheads.” As I chased my two older siblings, my feet began to burn from the ground, and I was finding lots of stickers. Just up ahead, I saw a potential refuge from the ground heat and the stickers: a piece of sheet metal. I certainly had no idea that it would be even hotter, and when I stepped onto it, I began dancing around, screaming and crying.
I remember my mother appearing at the kitchen window, and shouting to the others, “Somebody get that baby and bring him here.” I don’t remember who picked me up, but probably my sister, and I was taken to the back yard again, and sat down in the shade of an elm tree. It felt so cool, and she gingerly picked the stickers from my feet.
Now, what about you? What is your first memory as a child? Write a short synopsis, and then later we’ll talk about expanding it with more descriptive language. And what are your thoughts about first memories? Do you think they are mostly traumatic, or more gentle?