I spent Sunday with my Dad for Father's Day. We went out for Thai food (Dad's favorite) and on the way back we happened to drive past an apartment building that has always been a puzzle for me.
I have a memory of my grandmother (my father's mother) taking my brother and I to visit some elderly couple who lived there when my brother and I were quite young. Somehow I thought the people were related to my dad's father (who died when my dad was still a child), but it was one of those memories that was so murky that I almost thought I might have dreamed it or otherwise made it up.
So I asked my dad about it, and it turns out that his aunt had lived there - his father's sister. My grandmother had apparently maintained a friendship with her even after she divorced my grandfather. Mystery solved! It was kind of validating to learn that I hadn't just made up the entire experience.
Anyhow, that got us to talking, and I asked my dad how old he was when his parent's divorced. He said he was only about 2, but that he could remember back to when they were married.
In fact, his earliest memory was of his father beating his mother. He proceeded to relate the story - for some reason the two of them were fighting (likely, his father was drunk) and his father started to hit his mother. His mother was all dressed up for some occasion wearing a fancy chiffon dress with flowers on it. My 2 year old father, ran to defend his mother. He said he could vividly remember the feeling of the chiffon fabric as he clung to her legs and cried "Don't hit my Mommy!"
Wow. How's that for a first memory? In a funny way though, it sorta reminded me of my own earliest memory.
I was about 2 years old, and I was in the dining room with my mother. I wanted her to pick me up, but she refused. The more she refused, the more panicked I became, until I descended into a full-on tantrum, clutching her around the leg, with both my arms and legs wrapped around her calf. At that point she got very angry, kicked me off of her leg, dragged me down the hall by my arm, threw me in my room and locked the door.
Now, if I had to choose one word to describe my father's personality, It would be: fearful. And I find it very interesting that this emotion is so clearly expressed in his earliest memory.
Likewise, one of the defining themes of my life was a feeling of desperation trying to find a way to get my mother to love me. And if you look at my earliest memory, well, there it is.
So what do you suppose the mechanism is here? Is it that those powerful early experiences leave a profound mark on our psyches? Do certain memories that stick with us because they are somehow representative of our life experience in general? Maybe we simply choose to remember certain things because they fit with the narratives we have created for ourselves. Or maybe it's none of the above and it's just totally random what we remember and what we don't.
Anyhow, I'm curious. What's your earliest memory? Do you see the emotional themes of your life reflected in that memory? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this whole topic.