I have been told by many throughout my life that I have a fabulous memory. Though it’s not particularly common, I have vivid recollections from about 13 months of age on. Many years ago I read an article claiming that memory is triggered by a specific event. Based upon my earliest memories, I am convinced that my families move from the rented double bungalow on Pleasant to the house my parents bought on Vincent Avenue South was the catalyst for those first memories. While most do not recall life in diapers, in my earliest memory that’s all I was wearing.
Though there are photographs (and slides) of me from just weeks earlier, celebrating my first birthday at our home on Pleasant, try as I might, I recall nothing of that house. I just remember the things from the photo’s that made the trip to the “new” (built in 1905) house, like the yellow high chair I was seated in. My first memory was in a different metal contraption and I was in the large yard behind the house when the next door neighbor lady came through a gate in the hedges that divided their yard from ours. My mother was in the yard with me, the two women spoke. I would later refer to the woman as Grandma McGovern. I sat in the little metal walker, it was August in Minnesota and it was sticky. Hot rusty metal, a near naked baby in direct sunlight. My mother was likely smoking a cigarette (as she had through all three pregnancies) and to further embellish the story why don’t we pretend this little vehicle was coated in lead paint. In retrospect it is ironic that over 90% of the women in my neighborhood were stay-at-home-mothers and yet by today’s standards, daily life was the sort of thing that currently warrants calls to protective services.
You might wonder what got me thinking about childhood memories, unless of course you know me, then you know it doesn’t take much. Personality tests define me as the type of person who makes connections between disparate ideas, items, topics. As I’ve gotten older, I have learned to recognize the triggers. Yesterday the trigger was a school teacher. I’m working part time for a few weeks at a neighborhood garden center. Yesterday it was rainy and there were few customers. In the afternoon a school teacher stopped in to pick up some starter plants donated by our greenhouse. They are to be used for a family Earth Night tomorrow. The woman also grabbed some colorful rubber tubs and potting soil and commented “the kids should have fun digging in the dirt with these!” and I could not have agreed more. Once the transaction was completed I was mentally back at Lake Harriet Elementary School (the original one, not the one that assumed the name years after the destruction of the stately Linden Hills structure that I and my grandmother had attended) and recalling planting Johnny Jump Ups in Styrofoam cups. The school was located on a block that ended in a point where Upton Avenue and Sheridan Ave met. At the point of the block was a grassy area with a flag pole. In the spring when our flowers were strong enough and the weather was appropriately warm, we made a procession in a single file line along the curb (there was no sidewalk) and planted our flowers at the base of the flag pole. We could see them all summer long from the business district at the intersection. It was science, community beautification and patriotism all wrapped up in one activity that got wiggly kids outside on a nice spring day.
My father was an easily distracted child as well. Rather than trying to quell it in me, he encouraged it. Every spring he let me select a Punch & Grow for my classroom. It was a container with soil that had been seeded, with a clear lid that you punched holes in and watered. I spent a great deal of time when I should have been learning my multiplication tables keeping an eye on the little plot of outdoors that I had gifted to my classroom. Another spring tradition was him giving me a bird seed bell for my class. Annually a custodian would come up to hang it outside a classroom window. I enjoyed giving my dad updates at the dinner table regarding visitors to the bell that day. I’ll never know what lessens I missed while witnessing the migration of my feathered friends.
I feel like my vivid memories from my childhood are what prepared me to parent the children I had. Just as my father’s distractions had prepared him to be my dad. When my son was being tested and it was discovered he was dyslexic it was also noted that he applied Chapstick several times in a brief period of time. It was suggested that further testing might be required to understand his distractions. I asked if his behavior was impacting his classmates and was told that it was not, just that he might not be focused. So, I had a talk with him. I explained that when the teacher was at the board and talking, that most of his classmates focused on what she was writing and the content of what she was saying. That was how they learned. I told him that I suspected that while he was looking at the teacher he was noticing that the pattern in her skirt had the same colors as our couch at home and then perhaps he noticed a bird outside the classroom window. He nodded in understanding and said “yesterday it was a cardinal”.