The esteemed Dr. Freud did research into why we cannot remember much from our first few years. It turns out, according to the experts, that in children the hippocampus (yep you've got a hippo in your head), the part of the brain that records and stores memories is not fully developed, so events end up being stored randomly instead of in neat little folders on the hard drive. The big cheeses who figured this out called it childhood amnesia. (Or so I have read.)
Maybe it is a good thing that kids can't remember stuff so well. I am not a parent, but I have had my share of them and I know that a lot (including me) would fail the paper test if there were one--not to mention the practical part. But that is not what I want to get at in this post. When I first heard about childhood amnesia it made perfect sense and I began to think back on the pictures that flash in my head from time to time of my earliest days on this earth. I have a very early memory (I was about three) of watching ants in our backyard and "Raindrops keep falling on my head" was playing on someone's radio. I have a memory of petting our big striped tomcat, and another of being held in my Dad's arms and looking in a mirror after getting 8 or 10 stitches after falling backward off a chair onto a cat food can. I was wearing a dramatic white bandage with netting over it and Dad was trying to get me to laugh. I don't remember the pain, but I remember seeing our reflections in the mirror.
A lot of my earliest memories are of bathrooms. That may sound like the stuff of trauma, but it's not. They are actually nice memories--slow life memories of spending time sitting on the floor or the lid of the throne and talking to an aunt or my grandmother or mother while they bathed. When we were all together there were sometimes five women getting ready for church on a Sunday morning and that made the bathroom the best place to be for gossip, talk and education about make-up or other girlie things.
Even today, I like to watch Shuji when he shaves. Lathery foam, hot water, the foggy mirror and the even strokes of his razor take me back to when I was three or four and watching my Dad perform that same ritual in front of a different mirror. It is comforting.
So, childhood amnesia--yep. I've got it, but those ghostly memories remain and hover around the edges of my mind. I wrote this little tribute below long, long ago and it appeared in one of my earliest and most useless blog posts. Long, long ago, Dad used to play the guitar. I still know some of the songs he sang for me.
For Dad: Night Music for Small Ears and Feet
Warm summer evenings
were cooled by canyon breezes.
you sang to me.
On steel strings, calloused fingers found folk songs,
Dylan tunes and lullabies.
Now I know what you played.
Then it was all just music to me,
You smiled when I danced around your chair