Childhood Memories

Last night, my wife and our house guest and I talked about our memories of childhood. As usual, my memories of my earlier years left me with little to say. I remember only snippets that mean virtually nothing to me. The context of those memories seems to have disappeared. My wife and our guest, though, remembered more. And the more we talked, the more they remembered. Our guest said she had read somewhere that memories of one’s past tend to grow stronger and more distinct when we talk about them. She spoke of someone who was writing a memoir; this person said memories improve when we focus on them. Though the metaphor simile wasn’t used in our conversation, memories are like trees that grow taller and stronger when their roots are nourished with conversation.

The conversation then turned to the question of whether our early memories are true memories or are, instead, recollections manufactured by stories we’ve heard or photographs we’s seen or conversations to which we’ve been privy over the years. Someone said a psychologist has written that sixty percent of childhood memories are not our own but, rather, were created from others’ experiences relayed to us verbally or visually. That’s interesting, but it makes me wonder whether the relative paucity of my childhood memories is  because my behavior as a child wasn’t discussed in polite conversation.

I’ve said a number of times to a number of people that I haven’t seen many photos of me as a child. “Many” is a relative term, of course. I’m sure I’ve seen several dozen photos, but not the hundreds or thousands that others I know have of their early years. I remember many specific photos, but I don’t know where they are today. I don’t think I have them tucked away in boxes. I wonder if my siblings have them or whether the pictures have slowly been discarded as irrelevant snapshots from the past. The relative shortage of childhood photos has continued during my adulthood. I tend to take more photos now (thanks to my smartphone), but often I forget to capture moment that I might like to relive, visually, years hence. Friends and acquaintances have told me about their massive collections of photos. Perhaps people with children are more motivated to take pictures so that their children and grandchildren will have photographic evidence of their ancestry.

While I’m on the subject of memories and photos, I wonder whether photos of our youth might tend to serve as triggers for memories and bases around which to build memories that don’t actually exist? That is, if I see a photo of myself as a child building a sandcastle, might that photo serve as a base around which to construct memories of going to the beach, sitting on a towel, etc.? I’m trying to describe in words that fail me something like using a sourdough “starter” when making sourdough bread. That small “starter” is what creates the much larger and more complete loaf.

Perhaps I should I now direct this conversation with myself to the pros and cons of baking. Perhaps I should I take this opportunity to explore reasons I am so enthralled with cooking, but have shied away from baking. But I won’t do that.

Instead, I’ll end with a story I remember from sometime in my youth. The story suggests that one’s physical strength increases with incremental muscular and skeletal challenge. For example, the story suggests, if a person were to pick up a newborn calf several times on the day it is born, and then repeat that action every day of the calf’s life for two years, the person would, on the calf’s second birthday, be able to pick up a full-grown cow. I distinctly do not remember having ever picked up a newborn calf. That may explain my inability to pick up a full grow cow today.

Today is L’Audible Art. I’ll read two short stories, The Awful Truth and Snake Sighting, and one poem, The Words I Write. Thanks to the lack of marketing, we may have a tiny audience. I’ll read anyway. Because we said we would.

And with that, let me wish you a very happy May 14.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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