What is your earliest memory? This is mine.

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Most people have childhood memories from when they were about five or six years old. For some, though, their first seven, eight, even nine years can be a blank, while others remember things from much earlier. Supposedly, no memories at all means you had a placid and contented childhood since we only remember things that are exciting or frightening. (This doesn’t really account for suppressed memories of childhood trauma though, so how reliable is it as a theory? OK, let’s not go down that path!)

Earliest memory: Dad in about 1958Then comes the difficulty of dating. Mostly we don’t remember years and dates, so dating a memory comes down to family chronology: “It must have happened before we moved… after we got the dog… when mum was working…” And so on.

Holding hands

My earliest memory is of standing with my father to watch oil tankers – long lorries with cylindrical loads – driving onto a ship. The tankers are green and yellow and the side of the ship has opened and the tankers are driving aboard. There is a wide band of sand between me and the action. The sand is yellow but dull somehow, not yellow in the same way as the tankers are yellow. There is a thin, dark blue line, which is the sea. Above it is a blue sky that goes up to the edge of sight.

Just to my left is my father. Though I do not see him, cannot picture him, I am sure who it is and he is holding my hand.

This memory must come from when we lived in Qatar, before my sister was born, so I can be no older than about two and a half. Say the latter months of 1960. My father was a transport engineer working for British Petroleum (company livery: yellow and green) and my mother and I lived with him in Qatar for about a year until mum, heavily pregnant with my sister, took me and flew home to give birth in the same hospital where I’d been born. We never returned.

When I came to search for a memory, an image to put into my fifty word poem about my father, this is the memory that came, and I married it with another I have, the last I have of him.

Dad (1960 & 1995)

Holding hands: a beginning, an end.

My two-year-small hand in his.
Sunned sand, a primary sea,

green and
yellow tankers driving aboard a
white ship.

My beginning.

Then his end, thirty-five years later.

Dying in a hospital bed.
Not a man for holding hands, he reached for mine.
For comfort.

This is the first poem from a remembered moment in my work in progress, 50/50-ish. Fifty poems each of fifty words based on memories of incidents, people, feelings, dreams, stories and nightmares from fifty years of my life. I started it when I was fifty, now I’m pushing fifty-six, but I’m more than half way through. You never know, I might have it done in time for my sixtieth! [I didn’t. 10 February 2019 – aged 60+]

What is your earliest memory?

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

I originally published this article on the separate At the Quill website. I revised it for spelling and carried out some SEO fine-tuning – and added a featured image – before transferring it here on 29 March 2017.

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9 thoughts on “What is your earliest memory? This is mine.”

  1. You always have interesting topics! Love your poem.

    My earliest memory that I can date is from the year you were born. I was four years and it was christmas eve. Do you know what happened that year in Sweden? It was the very first time for the most important TV-program of all: Walt Disneys christmas special or “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar god jul”. I remember it very well. The few minutes I could watch before I had to go to a boring dinner with relatives. My father was a grown up so mother could not dragg him along to all the aunts and unces. He stayed at home and watched Disney which he liked far more than boring conversations 🙂

    The thought of how far back you can remember is also an important issue in the book I read this week for #Blogg52 “Growing Leaves” by Mats Ekman. In that book four years is not the limit …

    • Hi Eva, thanks for your comment. I can well believe that “Kalle Anke” could be a first memory for you. It’s probably one reason the show is still shown – the nostalgia factor for generations of Swedes! I don’t think we had a TV till I was about 3 years old, but then I can remember two animated (string puppets) children’s programmes that made a big impression: “Andy Pandy” was one and “Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men” was the other. I think “Andy Pandy” was shown here too.

      • Do you remember Andy Pandy?! You don’t know how happy you make me! Also one of the first memories, must be from about the same time. A memory which I have soo far been alone with. I have asked quite a lot of people but nobody has ever heard of him. I remember the little song in the end, in Swedish though. “Slut för idag, tack för idag, tralalalalalalalalala, slut för idag, tack för idag, Andy nu vinkar adjö, adjö.” If I remember correctly. It was some time ago.

    • Tack Pernilla. Jag tycker mycket om poesi och det där om att vara uttrycksful med få ord är ett konst jag behöver utöva. Jag tenderar att använda betydligt fler ord än nödvändigt! 🙂

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