How far back does your earliest memory go?
My most vivid memories start around the ages of seven and eight. Before that, it’s mostly snippets or specific moments. Special occasions like Christmases and birthdays. Family visits. Tea parties my mother would put on for my neighborhood friends. My first watch–Mickey Mouse. The different houses we lived in before settling in Texas.
My very first memory, though, goes all the way back to when I was probably about two years old, at a guess, and involves my grandmother.
My dad’s mother lived in Texas in the same town as us, so I was lucky to get to spend time with her. She and my grandpa also owned the family house we all vacationed at in Estes Park, Colorado. And, if you know me, you know that’s my favorite place on the planet. Fitting that this memory is also tied to that place.
My grandmother was very proper. Manners were important. Thank you notes were expected for all gifts. And we’d better call her “Grandmother.” Not Grandma, or Nana, or, heaven forbid, some southern version like MeeMaw. Children were to be heard and not see. That was harder when we were younger, but she was so lovely as I hit my teens and twenties, always sharing stories of growing up and her life with Grandpa.
But maybe you can picture her–always dressed beautifully and a little on the formal side.
In this earliest memory of mine, I’m sitting on her lap in a rocking chair in that house in Estes Park. I can picture exactly where the chair was, beside a large window that looked out over mountains. That ugly red and orange and green shag carpet. The wood panelling on the walls that would give you splints if you touched it, and the red wallpaper with the eagles.
I can picture Grandmother–slender and lovely, with her short gunmetal grey hair worn in teased curls. Although, it’s harder now to separate what she looked like when I was older from what she must’ve looked like then–younger than I’m picturing I’m sure. She would have only been in her mid-fifties at the most, which, as I’m only a decade or so away, seems super young to me these days.
My being about two years old sounds right, because I remember my parents along with several aunts and uncles vaguely being there. Everyone was watching me with Grandmother. So probably one of those moments of a grandparent and grandchild with lots of pictures.
Grandmother, at the time, wore glasses and she always had them on one of those chains so she could wear it around her neck. And in this memory, I reach for the chain. And every single adult (except Grandmother), shout, “No! No! No!” Now, I doubt they were actually shouting. But to a child that young, that’s how the memory works. Grandmother, meanwhile, very calmly and gently took the chain from my grasp.
That’s my earliest memory. Kind of a funny memory to have. You’d think my earliest would be of a parent, or maybe a sibling. But no. A simple memory, too. Just a small moment. A drop in the bucket compared to an ocean of many other moments of my life.
As a writer, memories like these are not only precious for personal reasons, but also for professional reasons. Those little details are characteristics I could write into a grandmother in one of my books, or a scene I could add with a grandmother and baby granddaughter. Those small memories give those scenes and characters in my books a realism that I think would be difficult to imagine otherwise.
I’m smiling even as I write this because it’s so real to me. I miss Grandmother.