What makes a first memory?

What makes for a memory? My first memory has chopped and changed over the years, as I’ve grown less and less confident about its veracity as fact. Perhaps what I thought was my first memory was a dream, for example. Recently, though, I uncovered the fact that my ‘real’ first memory occurred a good deal earlier than any of the potentially fake ones, and is pleasingly solid in my history, as it has a witness.

My mum recalls the events as follows: ‘It was Mother’s Day. You were two years old. [My brothers were five and seven] I woke up, and I didn’t have a card; your dad hadn’t got a card for me from you boys. Anyway, I took you all off to church [dad always stayed at home], and they handed out daffodils like they always did on Mothering Sunday, and I remember getting home and preparing the dinner, and I was thinking, ooh, maybe I’ll get a nice surprise at dinner or something, but dinner came and went, and no, nothing. So I was washing up and wiping the table down in the kitchen. We had a white table with flowers painted on it. And I was wiping it down, and I was crying. And you happened to come in at that exact moment, and you said, “mummy, why are you pretending to cry? So I was, you know, “I’m not pretending to cry, lovey, I’ve just got something in my eye. It’ll soon be better, run along now…” you know?’

What I remember about this is a vague image, which may or may not be a false recollection, but most particularly the fuss that was made over the fact that I had thought adults didn’t cry. The mental chemistry that will have been created is what I remember: perhaps people were laughing at me, perhaps they were sympathising, or perhaps they were being just generally loud. But the strength of the memory is in the fact that there was a reaction based solely on something I had said, and I will have reacted to that. Maybe I felt stupid, or maybe I just clocked it and moved on.

Yes, I clocked it and moved on, certainly.



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