Under a Blanket of Sleep
My earliest memories fluttered archetypal dreamscapes of unknowable shapes and otherworldly sounds. I remember not understanding the recurring dream, confusion which no doubt rooted the subtle cerement of fear shrouding this fascinating fancy. That I lacked adequate language to describe it frustrated me more than my inability to understand it.
Well, I still don’t get it and my words still don’t do it justice, but my next-oldest set of memories are mundane enough to recount here without feelings of inadequacy. Like most memories of early childhood, these gems exist only because of unintentional mnemonics.
I likely remember the USA bicentennial Independence Day parade because there’s photographic evidence I attended the event. I saw those “Happy 200th USA” pictures in 1976, 1977, 1978 and so on, every time I opened the family photo album. The requisite bright colors, explosions, and yummy charred meat in tube form might have seared something into my noggin too, but without photographs to jog my memory you wouldn’t be reading about it now. (Sorry!)
If a bear tells a story in the woods and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?
The narrative is another way we cheat the long forgetting. One of my earlier memories surely exists because I heard about it repeatedly and then repeated the tale thusly.
The babysitter put me to bed in my crib. All’s well, until some pother of hullabaloo caused her to enter my room a short time later. Feathers filled the air. Through the downy haze she cried, “What happened?!”
“My pillow hit me, so I hit it back.” I said.
Or so the story goes. I’m sure I first heard that story when my parents recounted it to somebody shortly thereafter. I heard it again a few years later when I asked, “Mom, Dad, why are there little feathers in the carpet in my bedroom?” Then I took the storytelling torch and ran with it every time a friend asked about the teeny snow-like feathers mashed into the blue Berber carpet acting as the floor of the rebel fortress on the ice planet of Hoth as we played with Star Wars figures in my room.
Mnemonicless Memories of Safety Town
So what should we call the first memories of waking life we store without story or photo aid? I’m tempted to use words like “pure” but my episodic memory isn’t what it used to be, so we’ll just say they’re unaided or mnemonicless memories. An unintentional lesson from Safety Town might be my earliest, cohesive, unaided memory.
Safety Town, for the uninitiated, teaches preschool children about life on the streets. Here’s a link to the Safety Town I attended where I learned about safety on the sidewalks and streets of suburbia. I think I remember kids riding Big Wheels around a marked course, acting as ersatz cars while numerous police officers watched over us. Safer, I suppose, than letting a bunch of idiot kids run loose in the streets to learn via trial and error with real cars.
This one time, at Safety Town
Surrounded by counselors and cops, a man walks among us distributing candy from a large container. “Would you like some candy?”
“You’re damn right I like me some candy,” is probably what I thought as I nabbed some sugary goodness with my grubby kid hands.
One of the many police officers then lined up all of the kids. “If you took candy, step forward,” he commanded. I and most of the other children took a few steps. “Now, turn around and hand all of your candy to somebody behind you.”
“What the f#*%?!” is what I might have said had my vocabulary been more, um, mature.
Obviously, the lesson was, “Don’t take candy from strangers.” But what I took home that day was something along the lines of, “Don’t trust old people who take your candy.” Or “The police aren’t capable of protecting you, even if you’re standing next to them.” Or whatever. @$$holes took my mother#*%ing candy.
To this day I’m more likely to accept candy from a stranger than to think the police are going to protect me from harm. Candy is awesome. 1979 Safety Town can suck it. Safety Town, are you paying attention? Change your curriculum, if you haven’t already.
What other sorts of memory mnemonics are there? Is there a song that carries you to a specific place and time? Every time I hear “Happy Birthday” I think of my birthday. What a great song. Thanks for reading.
When not mangling memories, Dan Dreifort consults on search and usability and makes music with his band LEAVE CORP. He recently founded SLACK, Summer League Adult Co-Ed Kickball, and is doing yoga for the first time tonight. Dan Dreifort is a notary public and a marriage officiant. Dan is also for scuba.